Mobile World Congress Experience’ll Spin More Innovations From Etisalat

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At the recently concluded Mobile World Congress in Barcelona Spain, Etisalat Nigeria showed strong presence pulling almost all its operational divisions to learn from world innovators and bring back ideas to help the company become more innovative. Hi-Tech tracked the CEO, Mr Steve Evans who opened up on developments and experiences the company was planning to bring to Nigeria from the Barcelona show. Excerpt:

Our market focus

So far, Etisalat Nigeria has mainly focused on the voice market. If you look at all our initial products, EasyStarter, EasyClick, which are the products for the youth market, then we went to Easylife, the first product that charges 25k per second for heavy users.

All our products are focused on voice market. I think for Etisalat, the big stories for the last three years have been about voice, driving down cost for consumers, improving customers’ services and that of quality of the network. But today, people have higher expectations of what mobile operators should deliver, and so the big story for the next three years is going to be about digital communication, broadband, accessing internet, apps that you can have on our phone.

Why MWC was crucial

Therefore, the reason the mobile world congress is such an important place to visit is because here, you have important stakeholders working on many ideas. So, you can take a look at what another operator or vendor is doing which you think could be applicable in Nigeria. Remember that in the world today, there are thousands of GSM operators and every single one of the GSM operators is working with a different vendor.

There is a big amount of innovative thinking going on. It all come together here in Barcelona at mobile world congress. That is why we have strong presence here. We even came with a team of our customer service division, technology division, among other divisions, so that we can learn more by listening and exchanging ideas, talking with other operators. As an operator, we believe there can be no monopoly of good ideas. As you can see 60,000 people here who are contributing to innovation industry. So, it is very important for us to be here.

Gaga phone was good innovation but Nigerians need more of it Gaga is an Android smart phone introduced into the market place at the lowest cost. It is manufactured for us by Huawei under a strategic partnership.

Our focus is how we can make smart phones available to a large section of Nigerian population at an affordable cost. This is because we have realised that doing business in Nigeria is not something to be afraid of. Customers can compare the price and quality of our services with competition and make a choice. We are not afraid to say that.

We are also asking the manufacturers of Gaga to produce a bigger range of the phones, particularly of dual SIM capacity because Nigeria is not a small market. There are a lot of people who have many lines here and they would like to carry one phone that has two SIMs instead of carrying two phones around.The moment the phone is good and has quality, there is always market for it. This market is however, not where you can sell any kind of GSM products.

How number portability would bridge the old-new entrant gap

The post paid market is interestingly a challenging market to us. Normally, the people who are playing big in that market are probably the early adopters. These are people who came to the market in 2002, 2003 and 2004 or about ten years ago. The reality is that people using it are very difficult to persuade to lose their mobile number. The same goes for the corporates who may find it very difficult to change hundreds of post paid lines from an existing operator to another.

The critical thing for us, which we have been asking the regulator to intervene is that we need mobile number portability. It is the only way a more open market could be created. Otherwise, the early entrants will have just an advantage of mobile numbers they got ten years ago and it will be very difficult for people to change. We have relatively, small post paid customers today but at the end of the year, when number portability comes in, it will be able to expand far more.

Why we may sell our towers

For an operator like Etisalat, the most important thing is the quality of network, how we treat our customers, how focused we are on our customer service. Those things plus innovation are the three things that we are pushing. It’s not absolutely necessary for us to own the towers.

At the moment, we do not have immediate plans to sell the towers we own in Nigeria but obviously it is not possible to rule out that we may do some thing like that in the future. We are always looking at different ways of optimizing our cost so that we end up spending the money on the right things. But today, we have no immediate plan to sell.

To be sure the quality of our network is at its best,we are very careful giving responsibility to some body else to manage those towers. If you sell your towers, it means you are leaving them to somebody else to ensure they are well managed. However, you also have to be very cautious about it if you care about quality.

There are opportunities for us in the growing mobile money market

The exciting aspect of mobile broadband revolution is the risining mobile money market. There are so many licenses happening. First, you have the Central Bank of Nigeria and the 30 potential mobile money service providers. As an operator, we have partnership with a lot of those licensees.

Some of them are big banks. Other ones are smaller, but innovative mobile money players coming from other markets. So, there are quite a mixture of people. Then, you have another area called the Near Field community, which is about being able to keep money on your handsets, a mobile wallet and you can put it out when you are at a retailer outlet .It also enables you to recharge your phone .

For us, this is another area of development. All of these things are targeted at moving us to a more cashless society. Third thing is being able to recharge your phone. Without having cash, electronic Top Ups which is what the CBN is pushing. Operators like us see great opportunities in these developments and here is a place to tap experiences to maximise their full advantages.

How to make 3G work in Nigeria

We launched EasyBlaze in September 2011, which I think as a 3G network will cope with demand. But even at that, it may probably cope for two to three years and so one of the things I have been saying to the minister of communication and the regulator is that it will be credibly important that in the next few months, the regulator makes available new spectrum which can be used for the roll out of LTE, 4G because that is a higher capacity solution.

We need more spectrum. At the moment, we have 10 mega watts. 3G spectrum, each of the operators, in the future, each operator will need 40 mega watts of spectrum. Though, the spectrum is not vailable, there is need to free it up. This is important because 3G on its own can’t be able to satisfy the whole needs.

Our 2012 expectations

We recorded 4million net increase in 2011 bringing us to over 10 million subscriber base. This year, we are targeting to take our customer base to over 15 million subscribers. So, our plan is for at least another 4million increase.

We are very close to number three. Our challenge this year, is thatwhile we continue to grow the services. To do, that, we have to be innovative, keeping on making interesting offers for our customers. We have to make sure that quality on our network is maintained.

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