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29 May 2015


  The world’s biggest country, in a magazine. Since 1956.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Cell Phone Mania

by Maria Kolesnikova

Food, Water and Cell Phones

Cell phones may not top food and water on Russians' list of vital necessities, but they might well place a tight third place.

Russia — young, capitalistic and always on the go — is distinctly mobile. Staying connected is becoming as much an obsession among Russia's younger set (and the not-so-younger set), as it is in the Western world.

Within the past year, cell phone penetration rose from 53.9 to 88.3 percent, according to ACM Consulting data, RIAN reports, indicating that there are now 128 million cell subscribers, versus just 78 million a year ago. Since ACM tallied cell phone users by number of SIM cards sold, the number is most likely inflated — many people use multiple SIM cards. It's not uncommon for Russians to have phone numbers for each city they visit regularly, say a Moscow and a St. Petersburg number. Hence, in some regions, cell phone penetration exceeds 100 percent. According to a more conservative, and a more realistic estimate by a national pollster, Romir Monitoring, Russian cell phone penetration is around 60 percent, still quite high. In rural areas with few landlines, cell phones are often the only means of communication, but, given lower income levels in rural areas, only 47 percent of village residents are said to have cells. In the more affluent cities, penetration is over 75 percent.

But for many Russians, just having a cell phone is not enough. Another part of being a Russian mobile-phile is having as expensive a phone as one can afford, perhaps one that is even more expensive than one can afford. One has to stay on the bleeding edge of fashion, after all. With a national median monthly salary of $300, Russians spent an average $165 on their cell phones, and they spend 70 percent more if they are buying on credit, according to several polls. The fashion-conscious typically upgrade their cell phones every three to six months, with upper middle-class consumers often spending around $400. There are no free-phone deals in Russia, as is common in the U.S. Similar to elsewhere in Europe, Russian cell phone operators mostly us a minutes-prepaid system, and phones have to be bought outright.

The market picks up on this demand. Last year, cell phones topped the list of Russian electronics imports, marking more than 20-fold increase in value vs. 2004, according to the head of the Federal Customs Service, Alexander Zharikov. The number of phones imported to Russia increased six-fold in 2005, with Samsung the undisputed market leader, with almost a third of the market, followed by Nokia (21.7 percent) and Motorola (19.8 percent).

Equipped with end-of-the line handsets, Russians, however, overwhelmingly ignore most services new phones offer, except SMS, another poll shows. Only one in ten Russians said they would use a cell phone to access Internet, or use mobile operator services, like weather forecasts, exchange rates or horoscopes.

In point of fact, SMS rules. Over two-thirds of Russians send text messages regularly, and, for people under 24, the number goes up to 90 percent. Providers capitalize on this addiction, launching SMS games, dating portals, competitions and paid SMS services. Some go crazy, like one Russian girl, who was reported to have spent over $1000 on text messages for her boyfriend around Valentine's Day. Others seek practical uses, such as the high school principal in Chelyabinsk who launched an SMS information service for parents to update them on their kids’ grades and school absences. In one case, a policewoman in Krasnoyarsk, used SMS to lure a fraud suspect out with a flirty text message, eventually leading to his arrest.

May 8, 2015
70 Years After Victory, the Battle for Stalingrad Rages On
70 Years After Victory, the Battle for Stalingrad Rages On
By Alice E.M. Underwood

The Battle for Stalingrad turned the tide of WWII in the Allies’ favor. Marked by the loss of nearly 2 million lives, it is one of the most devastating battles of human history. Yet it also continues to be embroiled in controversy, given the complex relationship Russians have toward Josef Stalin. 

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Tags: stalin, wwii, war, stalingrad
May 7, 2015
The Controversial Composer
The Controversial Composer
By Richard Taruskin

The personal and professional have become increasingly intertwined in considerations of the life and work of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. Music historian Richard Taruskin shows that this is nothing new – it all began shortly after the master composer's death.

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Tags: music, history, tchaikovsky
May 7, 2015
The Most Useful Russian Inventions
The Most Useful Russian Inventions
By Eugenia Sokolskaya

What do radio, television, the periodic table, and helicopters have in common? Russians were involved in developing all of them – and more!

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Tags: inventions, science
April 17, 2015
How Well Do You Know Russian Fairy Tale Characters?
How Well Do You Know Russian Fairy Tale Characters?
By Eugenia Sokolskaya

Sure, everyone knows the name Baba Yaga. But do you know where she lives? Do you know Koschey the Immortal, or Zmey Gorynych? How well do you know the spirits of the forest? Read up on these key characters of Russian fairy tales!

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Tags: fairy tales
March 28, 2015
Smoktunovsky: Portrait of an Actor
Smoktunovsky: Portrait of an Actor
By Eugenia Sokolskaya

A generation of Soviets grew up seeing the face of actor Innokenty Smoktunovsky in his varied roles, both on screen and on stage. But what was his actual life like? In this snippet, he gives a taste of the trials he underwent as a soldier fighting the Nazis.

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Tags: world war ii, smoktunovsky, memoir
March 8, 2015
International Women's Day: A Look Back
International Women's Day: A Look Back
By Eugenia Sokolskaya

Tired of having to do Valentine's Day and Mother's Day separately? Try it the Russian way and combine them into International Women's Day! A closer look at this convenient holiday's socialist origins and not-so-socialist present form.

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Tags: russia, holiday, women, socialism