On 21 March 2002, the first regional access node of the common transit telecom network was launched in St. Petersburg. The node is deployed at the facilities of the automated long-distance telephone station of Petersburg City Telephone Network. On 27 March 2002, the first operator, Telecom XXI, a subsidiary of MTS offering mobile telecom service based on GSM-900/1800 in the North-West of Russia, connected to the first regional access code. At the same time, Interregional TransitTelecom launched access nodes in Kaliningrad and Krasnodar in the pilot mode.
As a result of the rapid growth of mobile communication in Russia, long-distance telephone stations were no longer able to handle the increased traffic volume.
In major cities, the code “8”, which gives access to long-distance communication, was overloaded; the callers heard “busy” tones most of the time. Fixed-line networks used to build their nodes without taking into account mobile subscribers.
To solve this issue, interaction between fixed-line and mobile networks was needed. Interregional TransitTelecom, as a company that served the interests of all operators, decided to solve the problem by creating local switching centres.
Local switching centres were introduced as elements of the common transit network for federal networks based on NMT-450 and GSM-900/1800 standards; they ensured the connection between the transit network, mobile networks and fixed-line networks directly within the geographic numbering area.
Local switching centres, as any innovation, were taken by operators with reserve. They were not sure what exactly these new elements of MTT’s networks were, what technical capabilities they had and what benefits they could bring to mobile operators. Vitaly Alexandrovich Slizen, First Deputy General Director of MTT, was put in charge of explaining to the partner companies what local switching centres were and how they would foster operator businesses. He played a key role in the marketing of the local switching centre concept and in ensuring the great success in this field of business.
“At the start, the idea of local switching centres was not supported by mobile network operators. A lot of work had to be done and a lot of questions had to be answered before the market opinion changed. We travelled all over Russia and held personal meetings with operator representatives to explain the essence of local switching centres and our offering. As a result, we were able to persuade our first customers to connect to local switching centres; and then the operators started realising that working in a region using local switching centres was a lot easier and more convenient”, V.A. Slizen recalls.
On 23 December 2002 the first local switching centre of MTT was commercially launched in St. Petersburg, and four years later, on 27 December 2002, the second local switching centre was launched in Moscow. The emergence of the local switching centres created new opportunities for mobile operators in terms of transmitting additional local and intra-zonal traffic between fixed-line and mobile subscribers within the region and in terms of transmitting long-distance traffic between the region’s fixed-line subscribers and federal-standard mobile networks of other regions.
Building local switching centres significantly changed MTT’s status. A carrier servicing only mobile operators turned into a company that ensured interaction between mobile and traditional operators, a linker between fixed-line and mobile networks. By expanding mobile operators’ capabilities to connect new subscribers, МТТ was also creating the necessary conditions for fixed-line networks to grow faster.
MTT kept expanding the range of additional services offered to its customers. On 9 August 2002 it opened access to intelligent network (IN) services of Audiotele. These services used to be available only to fixed-line subscribers. Starting from that moment, Russian mobile network subscribers got access to IN services as well. On 28 August 2002 it was announced that MTT’s transit network was ready to provide international and national GPRS roaming. Interregional TransitTelecom became a member of GPRS Roaming eXchange, an international group of GRX service providers. The development of GPRS services made GSM Association think of creating a special mechanism to establish GPRS roaming. The Association prepared requirements for the operators that wished to participate in the establishment of the roaming and announced a tender. MTT was one of the first participants of this tender and among the first 10 companies to provide GPRS roaming (GRX Providers) recognized by the GSM Association. МТТ was also the first and, so far, the only Russian telecom operator to establish its own GRX Gateway in Moscow and be presented at AMS-IX GRX Peering Point in Amsterdam. Comprehensive testing was completed and seven agreements signed with the leading overseas GRX Providers.
By the end of the year, the volume of WAP traffic in MTT’s network had increased by 3.5 times.
At the end of 2002, 99 mobile telecom operators were switched to MTT’s transit network, of which 56 were GSM-900/1800 networks and 43 were NMT-450 networks. During the year, 30 access nodes of the transit network and two local switching centres were launched. The overall volume of traffic going through MTT’s transit network totalled 578 million minutes in 2002. As compared with 2001, the volume of traffic transmitted increased by 1.55 times. During the year, signalling relationships with 44 new operators from 18 countries were established. Thus, the total number of operators to have signalling agreements with MTT amounted to 246, representing 104 countries of the world. The total installed capacity of the switching centres amounted to 45,630 links.
The operator continued to develop international cooperation. In April 2002, MTT became a member of the European Telecommunication Standards Institute (ETSI), which is officially recognized by the European Commission and by the front office of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) and which at that time united more than 800 organizations from more than 50 countries.
At the end of 2002, the number of mobile network subscribers increased to 17.6 million, and the overall mobile penetration in Russia totalled 12.3 %. In Moscow there were 7.2 million mobile subscribers (with a 47.7% penetration), which was more than the number of fixed-line network users. In St. Petersburg, 2.2 million mobile subscribers were recorded (with a 35.6% penetration).