February 01, 2006

Cell Phone Mania


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.

Like this post? Get a weekly email digest + member-only deals

Some of Our Books

White Magic

White Magic

The thirteen tales in this volume – all written by Russian émigrés, writers who fled their native country in the early twentieth century – contain a fair dose of magic and mysticism, of terror and the supernatural. There are Petersburg revenants, grief-stricken avengers, Lithuanian vampires, flying skeletons, murders and duels, and even a ghostly Edgar Allen Poe.
The Little Humpbacked Horse

The Little Humpbacked Horse

A beloved Russian classic about a resourceful Russian peasant, Vanya, and his miracle-working horse, who together undergo various trials, exploits and adventures at the whim of a laughable tsar, told in rich, narrative poetry.
The Best of Russian Life

The Best of Russian Life

We culled through 15 years of Russian Life to select readers’ and editors’ favorite stories and biographies for inclusion in a special two-volume collection. Totalling over 1100 pages, these two volumes encompass some of the best writing we have published over the last two decades, and include the most timeless stories and biographies – those that can be read again and again.
Murder at the Dacha

Murder at the Dacha

Senior Lieutenant Pavel Matyushkin has a problem. Several, actually. Not the least of them is the fact that a powerful Soviet boss has been murdered, and Matyushkin's surly commander has given him an unreasonably short time frame to close the case.
Fearful Majesty

Fearful Majesty

This acclaimed biography of one of Russia’s most important and tyrannical rulers is not only a rich, readable biography, it is also surprisingly timely, revealing how many of the issues Russia faces today have their roots in Ivan’s reign.
The Frogs Who Begged for a Tsar

The Frogs Who Begged for a Tsar

The fables of Ivan Krylov are rich fonts of Russian cultural wisdom and experience – reading and understanding them is vital to grasping the Russian worldview. This new edition of 62 of Krylov’s tales presents them side-by-side in English and Russian. The wonderfully lyrical translations by Lydia Razran Stone are accompanied by original, whimsical color illustrations by Katya Korobkina.
Faith & Humor: Notes from Muscovy

Faith & Humor: Notes from Muscovy

A book that dares to explore the humanity of priests and pilgrims, saints and sinners, Faith & Humor has been both a runaway bestseller in Russia and the focus of heated controversy – as often happens when a thoughtful writer takes on sacred cows. The stories, aphorisms, anecdotes, dialogues and adventures in this volume comprise an encyclopedia of modern Russian Orthodoxy, and thereby of Russian life.
Bears in the Caviar

Bears in the Caviar

Bears in the Caviar is a hilarious and insightful memoir by a diplomat who was “present at the creation” of US-Soviet relations. Charles Thayer headed off to Russia in 1933, calculating that if he could just learn Russian and be on the spot when the US and USSR established relations, he could make himself indispensable and start a career in the foreign service. Remarkably, he pulled it of.
The Samovar Murders

The Samovar Murders

The murder of a poet is always more than a murder. When a famous writer is brutally stabbed on the campus of Moscow’s Lumumba University, the son of a recently deposed African president confesses, and the case assumes political implications that no one wants any part of.
Steppe / Степь

Steppe / Степь

This is the work that made Chekhov, launching his career as a writer and playwright of national and international renown. Retranslated and updated, this new bilingual edition is a super way to improve your Russian.

About Us

Russian Life is a publication of a 30-year-young, award-winning publishing house that creates a bimonthly magazine, books, maps, and other products for Russophiles the world over.

Latest Posts

Our Contacts

Russian Life
PO Box 567
Montpelier VT 05601-0567

802-223-4955