Ukrainian cell service blackout in Donbas: Options for the civilians

Author : Mykyta Sinitsyn

Source : 112 Ukraine

Ukrainian mobile communication network MTS shut down following cable rupture in the so-called "gray zone"
11:18, 19 January 2018

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The situation with Vodafone-Ukraine had an unexpected ending. In late December, the company announced the transfer of all subscribers from the temporarily uncontrolled territory of Donbas to the new "Smartphone Standard" tariff. According to the tariff, the subscription fee for a day is 3 UAH (10 cents), calls to other networks of Ukraine cost UAH 1.5 (5 cents) per minute, and SMS-MMS to all mobile networks in Ukraine UAH 1 (3 cents). This caused widespread dissatisfaction among the inhabitants of the self-proclaimed "republics", as well as their relatives living in Ukraine, as there was virtually no cell alternative to Vodafone (MTS) - the local "republican" operators "Phoenix" ("DPR") and "Luhak" ("LPR") did not provide a link with Ukraine.

Related: New leader of “LPR” says he’s ready to exchange detainees

January 11, mobile communication from MTS was stopped. It soon became clear that the reason for this was the damage to the fiber optic cable near Yelenivka village, in the so-called "gray zone". The repair teams of mobile operators or public utilities, when visiting the gray zone, are often subjected to shelling and human losses, so they did not hurry to go there without security guarantees.

Donbas side claims that Ukrainian military have shelled the wires, so that they do not work. Ukrainian experts and journalists say about planned disconnection of mobile communications in the self-proclaimed DPR as a step to remove the competitor to the Republican operator Phoenix and to close the revenues from mobile communications on one company.

The last assumption was in general indirectly confirmed by the statement of the "Ministry of Communications of Donetsk People's Republic" that in just a few days, about 50 thousand Phoenix mobile cards were bought out, and this despite the fact that the price of one card was 506 hryvnia ($ 18), although its usual cost is 101 hryvnia ($ 3,6). The total number of subscribers of the company since April 2015 was about 630 thousand people.

Related: Russian troops – main culprits of 2014 Ilovaisk tragedy, - Ukraine’s deputy minister of occupied areas

January 15, leader of the self-proclaimed DPR Zakharchenko announced about possible "nationalization" of Vodafone on the territory of the republic. Actually, this is how "Phoenix" appeared (on the basis of the "nationalized" "Kyivstar" operator).

The operator stated that it has satisfied its application for access to the accident site to repair the cable with the mediation of the OSCE and SCCC. Work should begin on January 18.

Related: Russia condemns Ukraine's law about Donbas reintegration

In the meantime, residents of the self-proclaimed "DPR" have two options:

  1. They might wait for the return of the MTS. Strangely enough, but in some areas the mobile connection from MTS was available, however, the company explained that this was due the capacity of base stations located on the Ukrainian territory.
  2. They might call from "Phoenix" to MTS. As it turned out, this is still possible, however, there are a number of nuances:

a) it is necessary to start dialing from the international standard "+38";

b) the call is charged as an international one, the cost is 5 hryvnia (17 cents) per 1 minute;

c) the quality of communication is often poor;

d) usually the conversation lasts only a few minutes;

e) MTS subscribers cannot call Phoenix.

As a result, people who were outraged by Vodafone’s growth of tariffs, have lost their money. The alternative in the form of calls via "Phoenix" is much more expensive than Vodafone services. Subscribers have a dilemma: pay the Ukrainian operator UAH 90 ($ 3) and unlimitedly talk with Ukraine or limit their communication with relatives through Phoenix to some 10-15 minutes a month.

Related: LPR militants deny participation in Malorossiya creation

If there were no armed conflict in Donbas, Vodafone and Phoenix could be easily blamed it in a monopolistic collusion.

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