Czechs go mobile maniacs

One of the highly popular Christmas presents nowadays is a mobile phone. Although more than 80 percent of Czechs already own a mobile phone, sales traditionally peak before Christmas, with operators throwing in estimates of new activation numbers. But as Vladimir Tax reports, operators do not always have a reason to celebrate an increasing number of mobile users.

In a population of around 10 million, over 8 million Czechs have a mobile phone. Although the percentage is comparable with most west European countries, the Czech Republic is a leader in the former east bloc. So far this year, the three local mobile operators reported nearly 1.5 million new subscribers. However, the market is getting saturated quickly, and the biggest chance for the operators to find new clients is to lure them away from competitors.

The operators tend to demonstrate their success by citing the market share - the percentage of the total number of mobile users. This figure though has a limited information value. For example, the biggest operator, Eurotel, had over 46 percent of all users in 2001, but its profits accounted for almost 54 percent of the total revenues from mobile services of all the three operators. On the other hand, the other two operators, Cesky Mobil and T-mobile, suffer from the so-called "poor client effect." Although the number of their subscribers has been growing steadily, their costs have been growing and revenue per subscriber decreasing.

Operators estimate that before the end of the year, the number of mobile users may rise by up to 400,000, which would be less than in the previous two years, when the number of mobile phone users increased by 20 percent on Christmas Eve. Anyway, the mobile operators, too, will have to wait till Christmas Eve to count their presents as people for the first time switch on their shiny new toys.