BARCELONA, June 30 (Reuters) - Veon wants to focus
on 4G deployment for the next three years before rolling out 5G,
its chief executive said on Wednesday, a strategy in stark
contrast to the bleeding edge aspirations of other telecom
operators gathered at the Mobile World Congress.
The vast majority of operators speaking at the annual
industry event in Barcelona touted their plans to launch 5G
networks, with Orange, Verizon and Deutsche
Telekom flaunting their latest experiments with
robots and edge computing.
But Veon, which serves 240 million users in countries as
diverse as Pakistan, Algeria and Russia, insisted on a very
different track in the face of its largely low-income,
infrastructure-starved customer base, most of whom earn daily
"There is really a need to make sure that smartphone
penetration gets to the right levels faster, that 4G
accessibility gets to the right levels," CEO Kaan Terzioglu told
Reuters on the sidelines of the Mobile World Congress.
"I don't like the vanity of 5G being discussed before we get
the basic things done."
The mobile and broadband operator, in which the biggest
shareholder is Russian billionaire Mikhail Fridman's investment
vehicle LetterOne, will seek to give its clients broadband
access, with Terzioglu noting he would be open to work with Elon
Musk's Starlink to bring internet access to remote areas via
"I don't expect 5G deployments in our markets commercially
over the next three years... though we will make deployments for
fixed wireless access and private networks," Terzioglu said,
adding that fewer than half of his customers had 4G coverage.
The pandemic, which exacerbated socio-economic equality as a
result of the sudden shift online - something half the planet is
unable to do - has increased extreme poverty by 7%, Terzioglu
said, in chorus with other teleco executives who pledged to
fight the digital divide.
"The only way to address that is to ensure equal access to
4G and fiber in homes, otherwise the gap will even get worse."
(Reporting by Clara-Laeila Laudette and Supantha Mukherjee;
editing by Kirsten Donovan)