Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Russian Brands

While Russia remains, economically speaking, behind the "West" in many regards, there is a vast array of succesful and reliable companies offering consumer products and services on the public market.

Russia's telecommunications sector is well-developed, at least in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Samara and the other large cities. The mobile and internet infrastructure is good, and prices are very affordable. Unlike in Canada and much of America, there are no 2 or 3-year contracts when buying a mobile phone: one simply pays for the phone, buys a SIM-card with a provider and then "tops up" their cell phone at a pay machine (located in almost every store and on every street). This is a much more affordable, competitive and efficient system than can be found in North America.

Beeline ( Билайн) is the largest mobile phone service provider in Russia. Beeline coverage pretty-much encompasses every built-up area across this vast country and rates are cheap. 3 roubles ($0.10) per text message and 5 or 6 roubles per minute of talk time is the average. The SIM-cards cost around 100 roubles and, as I mentioned above, you don't need to pay a monthly fee. Simply find any pay machine with a touch-screen, punch in your telephone number (which is also your account number), stick a hundred roubles or two into the slot and you are topped-up for the next few weeks.

Megaphone (Мегафон) is the second-largest provider and is found pretty-much wherever Beeline is. MTS (MTC) is next-in-line and is partially-owned by the state government and is a much more popular provider in rural areas than the two big "city" companies, although its coverage also includes most cities in the Russian Federation. Both Megaphone and MTS take their payments the same way that Beeline does.

When it comes to the internet there is a dizzying array of established giants and entrepreneurial start-ups. Finding the right one is a bit of a challenge. I used "Infoline", a big Moscow Oblast ISP, at my last apartment but since I moved I've been stuck with a really crappy little company whose name I can't remember. I had high-speed internet with Infoline and paid 650 roubles ($17) per month for unlimited usage, but now I pay the same amount for a low-speed connection that cuts out unexpectedly for no reason at all at any given time of the day.

One of the problems with internet service in Russia is that the building you are in determines what type of connection you can get. A building with updated wiring will easily accomodate a high-speed provider, while a building with basic telephone wiring will only allow you to get a shitty provider. Nobody is willing to invest the money to update the wiring in the buildings, so it's a completely random luck-of-the-draw situation when getting internet. My understanding is that most buildings in Moscow and St. Petersburg are good, while the further out from these cities you get, the worse the internet becomes.

While most cars found in the rest of the world are also found in Russia (Honda, BMW, Ford, Audi, Chevy, Toyota and even Citroen and Peuguot), there are two distinctly Russian car brands that can be seen on every street. These are Lada (Лада) and Volga (Волга). Ladas are pretty much the crappiest cars a person can buy (and I want one, for reasons I don't fully understand myself) while Volgas attempt to mimick higher-end cars (and do sometimes succeed).

A run-of-the-mill Lada

While I could go through all the myriad companies that are found in Russia, I have decided to present only the most prominent Russian companies here. There are the giants, such as Gazprom (one of the world's top 3 oil companies) and Aeroflot (Russia's main airline since the dawn of time), but there are so many smaller and more innocent companies that bring joy to the hearts of millions. Well, maybe not joy, but at least food and drink.

One of my favourite food outlets is "Kroshka Kartoshka" (Baby Potato). These stalls are found all over the place and serve baked potatos stuffed with whatever topping you want. My personal favourite is a nacho-cheese-and-sliced-hot-dog mix with butter and salt. Mmmmm...delicious!

Then there's the big sushi chain (and Russians are completely in love with everything Japanese nowadays, including sushi and anime) called "Yakitoria" (Якиториa) where prices are average and the food is also average, but the service, at least, is crap.

When online most people will find themselves drawn to the google of Russia, otherwise known as "Yandex" ( which is actually an incredibly well-thought-out and useful site. I would use it as my homepage except that igoogle offers funky little wallpapers that show which part of the earth has daylight and which is in darkness....but I digress.

Finally, if any traveller who meets and befriends any Russian national will attest to, there is the gigantic Russian social-networking site "V Kontakte" (BKontakte...actually means "in contact") found at Kontakte is a complete rip-off of Facebook but has several features that Facebook lacks, such as the massive database of pirated MP3 tracks that one can listen to as they browse the internet. I have found the most obscure Canadian folk artists on Kontakte, including ones I made up! I love their music player and listen to it constantly. Copyright laws keep companies like Facebook from pulling off something like that, so I use Facebook and Kontakte in conjunction with each other.

There are many, many more companies and brands from Russia that I could tell you about, but I don't want to. Actually, I do want to but my crappy service provider is about to cut out on me so I will say "Paka" (later!) and go eat a potato.

1 comment:

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