Leadership (Abuja)

24 December 2012

Nigeria: Telecom Operators Should Regulate Themselves - Evans

interview

Mr. Steven Evans, Chief Executive Officer, Etisalat Nigeria in this interview with CHIMA AKWAJA speaks on the reasons behind the ban on promos, network quality and investment plans for 2013.

Before NCC banned promos, operators were exploiting dynamic tariffs instead of flat tariffs, was that really good for the industry?

The main promotion which was the root cause of all the problems that hit the NCC recently was the tariff where customers received five times their daily expenditure on on-net calls which they had to use by midnight that night.

That promotion was from its very outset clearly going to lead to catastrophe. When we saw the other three operators had adopted it, we had to take a stand because to adopt a tariff like that, your network capacity has to be enormous and you saw what happened was that the networks capacity was not capable of delivering to their customers in a reliable way the free minutes they were then entitled to.

The result was enormous congestion on those networks. So we never joined that particular promotion. We never ran a "five times" promo because having highly skilled engineering teams like we have, we knew that if you ran that tariff, you are going to deteriorate your quality of service without any shadow of the doubt. So it was just a disaster waiting to happen. And obviously the NCC was bombarded with complaints about the deterioration of the networks.

People on one network couldn't call to another network because the other network was so congested. I mean it was frankly irresponsible of some of those operators who didn't have the capacity to run that particular promotion. And it left the NCC in a position it had to intervene, whereas the operators should have had enough sense to self-regulate themselves. They should have known what was going to happen and they should have avoided launching those sorts of promotions.

Now, the unfortunate thing for us is that the NCC has put a total ban on promotions from all operators despite the fact that our network is operating normally, no unusual congestion on it. We are appealing at the moment to the NCC that they need to reconsider this decision and they should only base a ban on promotions for networks which have a quality of service and congestion issue.

We feel very strongly that this is unfair and it is reducing competition. It is taking the sorts of benefits and the rewards away from our customers and we have absolutely no doubt that if you run a referendum of Etisalat customers and ask them: should we withdraw our promotions to reduce congestion on the network, I am absolutely certain as I stand here today, that our customers will say "No we want the same promotions that Etisalat is running in a responsible way to continue"

How did Etisalat achieve 14m subscribers in four years, and what is the secret?

Two things actually, we were very clear when we came into the market place that the quality of the network was going to be a benchmark for the industry. We had worked incredibly hard in the past four years to make sure that we deliver quality service despite a lot of challenges which make that delivery difficult. Remember that every single cell site has to generate its own power. We are always trying to make sure that those cell sites are available 365 days a year, 24hours a day.

You have to deliver the diesel, maintain the generators, change the generators when they get old, you have to be working very hard to maintain that quality of the network and availability of your service and obviously at the same time, upgrade and add capacity to the telecoms equipments. I think we have been very successful on the quality of service. And recently, the NCC ran a set of drive testing, where Etisalat came out as the number one operator in four, out of the seven regions in which they did the drive testing.

So clearly, the competition is also trying hard to compete with us but if you go on to the social networks, you will find out that people have complimentary things to say about Etisalat network and the quality of what we deliver. So quality has been the key. Another thing is from the beginning, we treated the customer as you should treat a customer. The name of a customer suggests somebody you need to treat in a respectful way, in an honest and transparent way. Another thing we have been very consistent about is that if we have tariffs or prices, it is very clear what the pricing is. There should be no hidden pricing which surprises you or catches you off balance.

How much is Etisalat investing on its network for 2013?

2013 would be a big year for us in terms of rolling out the network. We recently just placed very significant orders of network equipment with Huawei and also with Alcatel-Lucent and they will be adding in additional capacity into the network in all of the major cities and also we will be continuing to roll out the coverage. Our plans are to spend probably, in excess of $400 million dollars of investment in 2013 into the network.

Certainly there is no time to relax for my engineering and my deployment teams who are rolling out the network and growing the capacity of the network. And that includes a mixture of 2G and 3G that we will be rolling out. Normally, 2G for the new coverage area, and then more 3G into the cities, we still have big investment plans. And on the commercial side of things, I think our target will be to try to get to 20 million subscribers by the end of 2013.

Hopefully this year, we will finish with in excess of 15 million subscribers. It is a busy period, with a lot of activities leading up to Christmas. It tends to be a very big month actually in terms of people making calls and everybody getting in contact with everybody else. Obviously, we'll continue to innovate, we'll continue to maintain the quality of service that we've got, and we'll continue to want to grow the affection that the customers have for Etisalat.

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