So Many People, So Few Phones

Rivals are racing to fill Mexico's huge demand for local service

At a new switching center in downtown Monterrey, Mexican and Canadian engineers pore over a city plan that shows neighborhood income levels. Their quarry: sections of the city where Axtel, a joint venture between local investors and Bell Canada International, will find the fewest telephones--and the strongest demand. With the launch of service in Monterrey this month, Axtel is committing $1 billion, along with a new wireless technology, to Mexico's potentially huge market for local phone service. By 2005, it wants to sell 2 million lines--hooking up everything from working-class households to offices in need of Internet connections. Says Tomas Milmo Santos, Axtel's director general: "We're ready to compete as a true alternative to Telmex."

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