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Two million Slovaks cannot be wrong

Irena Benedeková, 71, didn't get her first fixed telephone line until she was 40. Yet today she is one of nearly two million Slovaks who owns a mobile phone.
"Growing up, we never had a phone in the house, we never needed one. Life was very different. But times have changed. My daughter bought this mobile for me last year and I see now that it's necessary for communication. If I'm working or if I go to the pharmacist, people can always call me," she said.
Benedeková runs a small flower shop in the eastern Slovak city Spišská Nová Ves. She uses her mobile to contact suppliers and take flower orders. It is an indispensable tool, she says, and she is not alone.


Prosím? More Slovaks now own mobile phones than fixed lines.
photo: TASr

Irena Benedeková, 71, didn't get her first fixed telephone line until she was 40. Yet today she is one of nearly two million Slovaks who owns a mobile phone.

"Growing up, we never had a phone in the house, we never needed one. Life was very different. But times have changed. My daughter bought this mobile for me last year and I see now that it's necessary for communication. If I'm working or if I go to the pharmacist, people can always call me," she said.

Benedeková runs a small flower shop in the eastern Slovak city Spišská Nová Ves. She uses her mobile to contact suppliers and take flower orders. It is an indispensable tool, she says, and she is not alone.

The number of mobile phone owners has grown dramatically over the past few years. So much, in fact, that in Slovakia, a country with some 5.4 million citizens, more people today have mobiles than fixed lines.

Globtel, the largest mobile phone operator in the country, had 980,655 clients as of September 30, said spokesperson Peter Tóth. That is a year-on-year increase of more than 450,000 customers.

Eurotel, the only other mobile operator in Slovakia, has also recorded a huge jump. Company spokesperson Marianna Črepová said that as of September 30, Eurotel had 803,638 clients, or twice what it had 12 months before.


Irena Benedeková says that "times have changed" and now counts herself among the growing legions of Slovak mobile telephone owners.
photo: Chris Togneri

In comparison, Slovenské telekomunikácie (Slovak Telecom - ST), the monopoly fixed line operator, at the end of the first half of 2001 reported 1,687,932 clients - a yearly increase of less than 15,000.

"When you combine Globtel and Eurotel, you see that 35% of the population has a mobile phone," Tóth said. Just 31% of Slovaks have a fixed line.

Mobile phone owners say convenience and cost make the 'handy' a better buy than fixed lines.

"I buy a card with Sk1,000 ($21) of credit, and I know how much money I have on the phone at all times and, more importantly, that I will only be charged when I make a call. It's simple. But with a fixed line, you have to pay monthly fees even if you don't call anyone," Benedeková said. ST charges a Sk199 monthly fee for maintenance.

"I don't have a fixed line. Fixed lines are too expensive and, anyway, I'm always on the go so I need a mobile," said Ivan Bendík, a 24-year-old salesman at a CD services shop in Spišská Nová Ves.

Mišo Brejka, a 17-year-old student, added: "Mobiles are better than fixed lines because I can communicate with whoever I want, wherever I want, whenever I want."


The Slovak mobile phone boom has helped toy stores, which claim that toy mobiles are a hot-seller.
photo: Chris Togneri

Brejka bought his first mobile when he was 15 and today has two.

The growth shows no sign of slowing, with Tóth predicting that 40% of the population would own a mobile by the end of the year. Even in the economically depressed regions of the east, new customers regularly file in to local Globtel and Eurotel shops to buy new phones.

"Every day we sell 10 to 40 new units, and when we have a sale, it's at least 50 a day," said Martin Kula, 23, a Globtel salesman in Spišská Nová Ves, which has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country at 25%.

"A lot of the people here are disconnecting their fixed lines and buying mobiles. Fixed lines are more expensive, you have to pay even when you don't use it, and you can't bring it with you when you leave home."

The Slovak love affair with the mobile has taken even some experts by surprise. In 1997, for example, the Telecom Ministry forecast that 8% of the country's citizens would own a mobile by 2001.

That figure was surpassed just 12 months later, prompting Stanislav Vanek, the then-director of the ministry's regulatory department, to comment: "This is an astonishing figure."

With seemingly everyone getting into the mobile act, what about small children? Does the average four-year-old have a mobile phone as well? Well, yes, in a way.

"Everyone in the family has a mobile, so the children want one too. That's why our toy mobile phones are selling so well, we often sell two to three per day," said Klara Gabrišová, a saleswoman for the Bečarik toy store. While real mobile phones typically cost at least a few thousand crowns to register and start up, toy mobiles cost no more than Sk75 ($1.60).

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