One of the reasons I am here is to do further research about the public wireless phone workers. They are situated all over the city in Ulaanbaatar, and I have been taking photos and conducting interviews with them to learn more about this new part of the telecom sector. There are about 17,000 of these workers around the city and they are young and old, dressed in traditional deels or in modern urban clothing. In addition to selling time on their phone (100 tg per minute, about $.10USD per minute, they sell cigarettes, wrigley gum, packets of instant coffee and candies. Yesterday I stayed in an open shopping mall area where many of them are working for quite a while to get a sense of the volume of their customers, the amount of time they stay in one place, the way they spend their time, and so on. I also watched a very drunk man harassing several of the female phone workers because he wanted a cigarette for free. He was very insistent to the point where he became physical and one of the women finally managed to chase him away.
I also had a very interesting interview yesterday with the CEO of a new startup company called Uluusnet, which is a wireless internet provider in UB. Mongolia is one of the first 50 countries in the world to launch wimax services. Their office is in the top floor of a brand new skyscraper that also houses a new airline called EZ Nis. The views of the city from the Uluusnet office were incredible! I will eventually post some of them on my flickr website. Wimax service is now available for about $40USD per month, which is only affordable to a select few in UB. One of the primary shareholders of this new company is Mobicom, the largest wireless operator in Mongolia, whose majority owner is a Japanese company. And the CEO is a fascinating man who used to work for Skytel, the other major wireless operator. He has lived and worked in Turkey and Italy and speaks Turkish, Russian, English and Mongolian. He is also a very imaginative and strategic thinker and is extremely proud to be running this new company in Mongolia. He told me his dream is to provide wireless access throughout the country (even throughout the most remote parts of the countryside). The name Uluus, in fact, means country or nation in Mongolian language.
Last night I was invited to dinner by my friend Naran's mother. She took me to a restaurant called the History Club, and the architectural design was part ger and part modern building. It was a very nice restaurant and the center piece was a karaoke area with flashing lights beaming onto the floor. At one point four young musicians came out of a back room and began playing traditional mongolian instruments. They were fantastic! Apparently they usually play all night but had to leave early for a CD recording session.