Mon, 30 Oct 2000

PT Excelcomindo expands cell service into Batam

BATAM, Riau (JP): Cellular operator PT Excelcomindo Pratama (Excelcom), one of Indonesia's three GSM operators, started operations on the island of Batam in the Riau archipelago last week as part of its nationwide expansion program.

"We will not stop here, next we will expand to the Riau mainland and all of Sumatra," Excelcom general manager of sales operations Madyana Abdulgani said in a media conference here on Friday.

He said the company should have finished its expansion in Sumatra at the end of 1998, but prior to that the country was hit by its worst economic crisis and plans for expansion had to be shelved.

"We should have had Medan and Batam covered in 1997, but prices went up so high during the crisis," director of sales and marketing Kusnadi Sukarja said.

Excelcom resumed its expansion program this year with the establishment of services in Medan, North Sumatra, early in September, he said.

Before the end of the year the company plans to provide services to Pekanbaru on the Riau mainland, Kusnadi said.

"We also plan to expand to major cities in Sumatra like Padang, Jambi, Palembang and Bandar Lampung in the first quarter of 2001, and to Kalimantan and Sulawesi by the end of 2001," he added.

Excelcom general manager Suhari Harliman said earlier that the company would invest at least Rp 140 billion (US$15.5 million) in the company's coverage expansion to North Sumatra and Riau.

Gani said one of the reasons Batam was chosen was because of the high demand for the prepaid global system for mobile (GSM) communications module on the island.

"Batam started as a post-paid market, but it doesn't suit the nature of the people here," he said, referring to Telkomsel's GSM post-paid services, Kartu Halo, already available on the island.

Another GSM operator is PT Satelindo with its subscriber identity module (SIM) card Mentari (prepaid) and Satelindo Card (post-paid).

Batam's population mainly consist of commuters and outsiders, unsuitable customers for post-paid modules, Gani said.

"They are on the move all the time so it is easier for them to use prepaid cards," he said, adding that most cellular phone users in Batam were already using Jakarta-based or Surabaya-based prepaid cards.

Excelcom director of sales and marketing Kusnadi Sukarja said more than 50 percent of its 600,000 customers used proXL's prepaid module.

More people prefer using prepaid cards rather than post-paid ones because they are easier to use and have no administration hassles, he said.

"Users also have more control over their telephone bills as there is no possibility of being overcharged in bills," Kusnadi said.

He said that Batam was also chosen because of the high traffic of people coming from Singapore, who need a local GSM network for their cellular phones, usually called in-roamers.

"Theoretically, the operator with the strongest signal will catch the in-roamers because the visitor's cell phone will automatically search for a new network once the other one weakens," Kusnadi said.

To ensure strong transmission and clearness of sound over the islands Excelcom has invested more than $12 million to set up 20 base transceiver stations (BTS) in Batam and six in Bintan, he said.

"Currently there are 18 BTS operating on Batam, the other two will be ready in two weeks," Kusnadi said, adding that the six on Bintan will be operational in the second week of November.

He expects between 15,000 to 20,000 new customers from Batam by the end of next year.

Excelcom's network covers major cities in Java, Denpasar in Bali, Mataram in West Nusa Tenggara and Medan in North Sumatra. (10)