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BUENOS AIRES-Things have changed considerably since 1990 when Mauricio Wior took his post as chief financial officer of CRM Movicom, Argentina's first cellular phone service provider and a joint venture between Bell South, Motorola and two local investors.

At the time, the now-defunct state monopoly ENTel had made Argentines so distrustful of basic phone service that most of Movicom's time and marketing budget were spent just explaining the cellular concept.

Five years later the country boasts three cellular providers with more than 260,000 subscribers, and Mr. Wior, now Movicom president and VP-chief operating officer of Bell South for Latin America, is poised to up the telecommunications ante in 1997 when Telef¢nica de Argentina and Telecom Argentina tentatively are set to lose their monopoly on basic phone services.

Mr. Wior and Bell South are not alone. AT&T and GTE are both partners in Compa¤ia de Telefonos del Interior, Argentina's most recent cellular upstart. Earlier this year, U.S. multimedia giant Tele-Communications Inc. bought 51% of Argentina's third-largest cable operator, Cablevisi¢n, as an inroad to the telephone market.

"When the market is deregulated there will be three industries competing for the same customer: wireless, cable TV and basic phone service companies," Mr. Wior said.

"The winners in the long term will be determined by their financial strength and technology. You also have to have a strong brand name and image."

How much money multinationals throw in remains to be seen.

The Argentine government expects $1.5 billion to flow into the pay TV sector alone, but Bell South, thanks to its 45% share in CRM Movicom, already has a clear advantage with consumers. A cellular phone, from any manufacturer or provider, is commonly known as a movicom.

"Branding in telecommunications is extremely important and it's going to be more important in the future," Mr. Wior said. "In the U.S., it is a very non-marketing example. There was one Bell company split into seven Baby Bells and each chose a name based on its region. From a marketing point that doesn't make much sense.

"Movicom is a leader because we developed a brand name with certain associated attributes. This is a clear advantage when you start thinking about future mass marketing."

That said, Movicom is now expanding from its base of business users into other sectors.

The company this year is targeting women and families, and last year began installing its phones on buses and trains to pull in non-traditional users.

It also offers a cobranded Movicom MasterCard, through the Bank of Boston, which gives holders free phone use based on their purchases. The company's Graffiti/DMB&B-created slogan, "A Movicom is a Movicom," aims to place all services under the brand umbrella.

Although Movicom had 1994 income of $57.8 million on sales of $282.4 million and has more than 150,000 subscribers, Mr. Wior has no doubts Bell South's expansion here is tied to further diversification.

"The challenge now is to double this-add another $300 million. To do it we will need to add other telecommunications business and services, not just wireless," he said.

Long-distance services look to be key. Although Telef¢nica and Telecom have greatly improved general phone service, their monopoly lets them charge exorbitant rates. International calls to the U.S. are $3.84 per minute; to the U.K., $5.55.

Current Movicom operations and jockeying for position in the coming deregulated basic phone market are keeping Mr. Wior busy in Argentina, but both he and Bell South have a bigger goal: challenging Spain's Telef¢nica. This company provides phone service in Argentina, Chile, Peru and Puerto Rico, business it won through privatizations, as a regional telecommunications company in Latin America.

In addition to its interest in Movicom, Bell South provides cellular and local and international long-distance service on its own in Chile, cellular service in Uruguay via Movicom's operations there, and cellular service in Venezuela through a stake in Tele Celular.

More recently, in June, Mr. Wior announced a five-year, $300 million investment in Chile, where Bell South hopes to capture 20% of the local and international long-distance market. Bell South is also talking with Peruvian cellular provider Tele2000 about a possible team-up there.

Mr. Wior's international experience suits the plans well. Educated in Israel, he began working for Motorola there in 1982 and did stints with the company in Europe, the Far East and the U.S. before returning here in 1990.

"The region is going to become one big economy," Mr. Wior said. "There are new trends that didn't exist five years ago, and telecommunications will follow the same path. Companies that have a strong presence in the region and not just in one country will have an advantage."

With that, Mr. Wior is already tinkering with ideas for a cellular network spanning South America.

"You can imagine continental coverage and a continental number where you can be reached anywhere in the Americas," he said. "The potential is huge."


Mauricio Wior

BIRTH DATE: Oct. 23, 1956

FAMILY: Married, three children.

EDUCATION: Bachelor's degree in Economics, University of Tel Aviv, 1981; MBA, University of Tel Aviv, 1984; Bachelor's degree in Accounting, University of Tel Aviv, 1986.

CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Controller with Motorola's corporate cellular operations in Israel, Europe and the US: 1982-90. Chief Financial Officer, CRM Movicom: 1990-91. Director General, CEO, CRM Movicom: 1991-95. Vice President, CRM Movicom, Chief Operating Officer, Bell South Latin America: 1995.

HOBBIES: Tennis, golf, scuba diving.

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