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BUENOS AIRES-Four years ago you were lucky to get a dial tone in Argentina. Now, the pedestrian landscape in downtown Buenos Aires has been transformed into a sea of bobbing antennas connected to cellular telephones or, as they are known here, Movicoms.

At the other end of the line is Mauricio Wior who, after working for Motorola in the U.S., Europe, and Israel, was lured back to his native Argentina in 1990 to fill the position of chief financial officer at CRM Movicom, Argentina's first cellular network.

Despite the fact that 1990 was one of Argentina's worst years on record-triple digit inflation persisted and Carlos Menem's government was in its infancy-Mr. Wior, 37, saw the offer as "an exciting proposal."

Now in his third year as ceo, he runs one of the country's fastest growing corporations.

Movicom substantially expanded its services last year, fueled by a capital investment of $60 million. The infusion brought improved quality, access to databases and financial markets and the ability to use the service in Uruguay, Chile, Brazil, Mexico, Puerto Rico, the Bahamas, Canada and the U.S.

This commitment to quality and service, rarely found in Argentina, was key in helping Movicom increase its revenues from $120 million in 1992 to over $200 million in 1993, while its client base skyrocketed 150% to 100,000 subscribers for the year. Showing no signs of slowing down, Movicom currently dominates more than two-thirds of the cellular market; overall cellular penetration is just over 1.5%, up from 0.35% a year earlier (AAI, April 19, 1993).

Mr. Wior considers advertising an extremely important part of Movicom's success (the company spends about $5 million annually via Graffiti/DMB&B), but does not see it as an end in itself. "The advertising campaign cannot be considered isolated from the rest of the company," he says. "One of the successes in our advertising is that it reflects reality."

Movicoms are so well-known that the company's advertising focuses not only on the phones but also on the availability of advanced technology, upgrades and options. The themeline of the print and TV effort plays off the Argentinian penchant for calling all cellular phones Movicoms with the tagline: "A Movicom is a Movicom."

Movicom's success has paved the way for cellular development in Argentina and throughout the world. Last year saw the birth of Movicom's first competitor, Movistar.

And this April Compania de Telefonos del Interior (CTI), a consortium comprised of GTE, AT&T and two Argentine investors was impressed enough to commit an estimated $700 million to develop a cellular network in Argentina. Movicom is also exporting technology and manpower to developing cellular networks in other countries.

Mr. Wior expects Movicom's growth to reflect that of 1993 and foresees the day when, with improved technology, Argentina's cellular penetration rates, now at 1.5%, will reach 10% to 20%. "There is no question in my mind that the potential is there," he says.

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