By Prince Osuagwu
After presenting a paper at the just concluded AfricaCom conference in Cape Town, South Africa, the Etisalat CEO, Steve Evans, was faced with hordes of questions on the confusion trailing who should register subscribers in Nigeria.But Hi-Tech also cornered him later to give more details on his view on the issue and others in the industry.
One of the questions the audience needed you to educate them on, after your presentation was that of SIM registration wahala in Nigeria. You did well with the answer, but between me and you, what is your position?
I think there has been some confusion, perhaps as power was changing hand at the Nigerian Communication Commission, NCC. Certainly, the operators have all reached agreement with NCC about the SIM card registration process and what needed to be done.
We said, what we needed was to take photographs, scan, collect thumb prints which are key in SIM card registration including the name of the person and other vital information. Actually in identifying somebody, the names and face and finger print must be captured.
The confusion started when the new regime at NCC started talking about sophistication in taking the identity of the subscribers. They reversed earlier agreement, saying that identity cards are not reliable way of taking information because they can be forged.
Another area of confusion is whether the operators should register just the new customers alone or with the existing ones. Our view is that it is better to let the operators register both so that they do it in one track.
It makes more sense that if operators have invested in equipment to register people, let them continue to register everybody including their customer base, rather than having a two track process where the NCC register the customer base and the operators registering only the new subscribers. I just don’t understand why the government or the regulatory agency would want to waste money in registering the customer base when the operators have already invested a lot in equipment.
But our understanding is that operators said they could not do it in less than three and half years?
I can’t recollect saying we need three and half years to carry out the exercise. Certainly, that is not what Etisalat said. I think it is practical to look at registering the whole customer base probably by end of 2011 which is 14 months away.
I think it is a much more practical time frame for us the operators because if you look at other market such as South Africa which has been registering similar customer base, essentially, the regulator gave them two years to do that. You cannot cut_off millions of customers because you made registration time process short. So, we have to reach compromise which is reasonable for customers to register and also a reasonable time for security process.
Does that mean you never had a conclusive agreement on who should register what?
Yes, there was no sustainable agreement. My belief is that the regulator should allow the operators to register all their customers which is much more practical way of doing it than government investing in this area.
Earlier in your presentation today, you said Nigerian market was not mature for outsourcing, can you explain why you think so?
In actual context, you have to make it clear where you are going to emphasise your differentiation from your competition. Ultimately what you can afford to outsource, to some extent, depends on variety of things, including whether some other person can run the business in a more cost effective way than yourself and also how mature your market is for outsourcing.
Relatively speaking, I will say that in Nigerian context, the market is immature for outsourcing . Outsourcing can lead to degradation of service that you were giving, but you need to be very conscious in taking that decision.
What I was saying is that, there are not many experienced companies to provide outsourcing services. So, if you want to outsource customer care service for instance, you would want it to be of high quality. But it may not be easy to run a competitive process where you have multiple companies who can offer that service at an attractive high speed.
One other thing I have been saying to the big vendors is that they need to invest in their business so that they can provide greater services to mobile operators. Another thing is that it is important that companies invest in the development of human capital as well. Nigeria is a fantastic market, no doubt, but compared to the European market or the Indian market at the moment, there are not much of experienced companies providing outsourcing in many areas.
Fantastic to what extent?
To the extent that every product introduced in the market has a special impact on people. Look at it this way, the market for voice is booming now, but over the next two years or so, I think we are going to see the voice market flattening. By 2011, we will start to see broadband and data becoming more important and in 2012 and 2013, it would become very important perhaps far above voice.
So, the roll out of broadband over the next two years will be getting close to the peak as well. The voice market will be on the foot heels over the data market.
Even with all these indices Operators still cry of challenges?
Ofcourse, you know that power is a big challenge and is taking much of our total costs. But for us, we are moving to high breed power in our cell sites. We will run generators and store batteries and that cancels the idea of having two generators in a site. We will run one generator and that is a cheaper option for us. In the north, where you have a lot of sun shine, we will have the opportunity of using solar panels on some of our sites. However, we will be delighted if the government will increase the level of domestic electricity supply because it will clearly reduce the costs we incur at the moment which is terribly high. If we get lower cost to power, definitely, the customers will get lower prices.
How are you positioning Etisalat against the broadband boom scenario you painted?
We have purchased 3G licence off the Dangote Group’s Alheri and now, we are rolling out 3G networks. That is the big thing. In the next two years we will have rolled out 3G networks to cover greater percentage of the population especially in urban areas and the remaining cities.
We have been rolling out 3G networks to start offering 3G services, the highest broadband services which 3G can deliver.
Recently you partnered with Samsung on the new Galaxy Tab. That’s a high end market and the youths who think you are there for them are beginning to think you are gradually flying away?
If you are a mobile operator, when you build network, you invest so much in infrastructure. In our case, our shareholders are injecting a $2 billion into the company. So when you build such a big network with a lot of capacity, you can’t afford to target only one segment of the market. You have to target multiple segments.
In our case, EasyCliq is for the mass market, EasyStarter is for high yield market and we also have EliteWorld. We have three different offers for three different segments. So, the Galaxy tab is a product for the higher segment because of the cost of the product. It doesn’t mean we intend to neglect the core network of the mass market. We have plans to continue to offer exciting things for our youth market and to offer new things in the New Year.
You are not loud on Corporate Social Responsibility, why?
CSR is not meant to be too loud about. We are very keen in playing any role in corporate social responsibility. We are only two years old. We are not actually making profit at the moment, but nevertheless, we think it is very important for us to develop the relationship with the people we serve and who we rely on for our success.
So, we place emphasis on education. As we did in 2009, this year, we will be awarding 300 scholarships to 26 different universities throughout the country in electrical engineering, information technology and business studies. Awardees are selected based on merit. So, it is the best people that we give N100, 000 in terms of scholarship award bursary. We have participated in governor’s programme for adopt-a-school in Lagos. We have re-built two of the schools which one of them is in Lagos Island and the other in Surulere. We are also doing a programme in career counseling. Education is a big thing for us, but we are also doing something in the health area.