Matthew Willsher, CEO of Etisalat Nigeria, has said the mobile phone company landed its local market success through a strong focus on Mobile Internet that was driven by “real thirst and hunger for connectivity” of Nigerian consumers.
It is a veritable success story for the Nigeria’s fifth GSM network operator and mobile telephony market’s late entrant, which has by its own admission sealed its leadership in growth traction of voice services, mobile Internet and data services and quality of service.
Official market information released recently by Nigeria’s telecoms regulator cites that Etisalat has emerged a key market contender.
Among the Big Four GSM networks, the total active connections recorded at the end of 2014, was 136,676,606 lines. Despite being the last entrant, Etisalat closed with 21,103,749 in a keenly competitive mobile phone sector. Rival MTN Nigeria posted 59,797,224; Globacom, 28,219,089 and Airtel Nigeria: 27,556,544, according to the year-end information from the Nigerian Communications Commission, the industry umpire. [blockquote right=”pull-right” cite=”Matthew Willsher, CEO of Etisalat Nigeria”]“Yes, we were late into the market overall; we were five years later than the other operators but we were first actually into the market with 3.75G HSPA, so at that point really we took the leadership in terms of performance which has carried on.”[/blockquote]
“Yes, we were late into the market overall; we were five years later than the other operators but we were first actually into the market with 3.75G HSPA, so at that point really we took the leadership in terms of performance which has carried on. We have a great reputation for data and we have the best customer satisfaction, the best net-promoter score in Nigeria, and what’s interesting to me is that we’re moving from just being seen as having the best data network to having the best network overall”, Willsher, CEO of Etisalat Nigeria says.
Matthew Willsher, CEO of Etisalat Nigeria, who was featured on the cover of Win Win, a publication of Huawei told the magazine that the mobile phone company’s top performance in data is spiraling down its offerings and driving its success among mobile consumers.
“For instance, the other operators were banned for a time and fined because of their network quality, whereas Etisalat was seen as delivering overall quality, particularly around voice, that met the required standards of the regulators, so I’m very proud of the team and their achievements in that area”, he adds.
He sees plenty of headroom for growth as data and Internet services kick in as the net stage of the Nigerian market evolution.
“In Nigeria, of course voice is still growing very fast along with data and Internet access so we are still in the early stages of development of digital services but access to the Internet is very important for customers. Music is starting to grow, ringback tones have grown over the last year; from a million customers last year, we now have seven million customers on ringback tones so we have seen very fast growth in services but they are still small”, Willsher adds.
For Etisalat Nigeria, revenue from data services is now over 20%, “which leaves a lot of room for improvement; in some other emerging market economies data revenue is already close to 40%.”
But that does not mean the death of voice. Rather, voice remains a key part of the success story of the mobile boom in Nigeria and that is not likely to abate soon even as data and Internet needs begin to kick in, he says.
“In Nigeria, we are still going through the growth of voice. We have a voice wave still driving us forward. So with a population of 170 million, there are only 125 million mobile subscriptions. We also have an increasing demand for data services. So we have to cope with both voice growth and data growth at the same time. Mobile is the main way people access the Internet and so that’s what we’re focused on. It’s really important to our business that we keep improving quality, keep improving capacity, to cope with that demand”, the CEO of Etisalat Nigeria says.
For Willsher, who has had extensive work experience in the UAE, before the Nigerian call of duty to lead the fast-growth Etisalat operations in Nigeria, the two markets pose peculiar differences.
According to him, “these are two very different markets. The UAE has around seven million people and a variety of different customers, including a lot of high-spending customers using the latest technology – 3G/4G network services and a very extensive, high-performing fixed network as well that delivers up to 200Mbps to consumers. In contrast, Nigeria has 170 million people. It is the largest economy in Africa, with huge potential for growth. There are 55 million people in Nigeria below the age of 10, so if life expectancy reaches 70, this will make it a larger country in terms of population than the United States. We’re talking about one of the world’s major growth markets, so they’re tremendously different. In Nigeria, customers of course are more constrained in terms of their spending. GDP per capita is lower so they tend to be using more voice services and data access services and almost all the access is via mobile; there’s very little fixed line service whatsoever, so they’re tremendously different markets.”
For the Etisalat Nigeria CEO, there are also cultural differences that come to play as he offers leadership to a team that serves a market where he has come to discover a people with boundless energy and market with potentials for nimble and agile players in the mobile value chain.
“Well, Nigeria is an incredible place, I mean, we’re sitting here in China, and I’ve worked in Hong Kong and I’ve worked in Korea before – actually, I think the most incredible thing to me about Nigeria is that it feels more like north Asia to me than anywhere else. Nigerians have a huge appetite and ambition to do things well. They’re quite prepared to work hard and to innovate and try things. So it’s a real pleasure working here. From a cultural point of view, it’s been great because I’ve got experience in multiple other markets, but here, I would say that the raw talent and raw energy in Nigeria is one of the key things that is able to drive us through the challenges. So from a management point of view, it’s a lot about leadership direction-setting, ensuring that our quality of operations is good. Simply put, the entire way that we manage our team, the targets that we set, and the performance management that we bring into the company matters. It’s about ensuring that we’ve got the right kind of learning environment. As I mentioned before, nurturing talent is very important and I believe we’ve got some fabulous people and fabulous talent in the business. Bringing those people onboard and bringing them into leadership positions is a vital part of my role”, Willsher says.
On the flip side, Etisalat Nigeria is not insulated from the challenges that other players face in contending with challenges of the operating environment in delivering world class mobile services to a vibrant African economy, Nigeria.
Willsher confesses that for Etisalat Nigeria, “that’s a real challenge for us, combined with a lot of the infrastructure challenges that many businesses face in Nigeria, particularly around electrical power and the costs associated with it.”
To meet the needs of over 125 million mobile subscribers in Nigeria, home to over 170 million people, Willsher admits that like its rivals in the business, Etisalat will have to scale several challenges to continue unlocking market opportunities to grow voice and data access.
“Our challenges, which are faced by most businesses in the country, include insufficient and inefficient infrastructure. As a telco, power generation (there is minimal grid power), security, taxes, and land access make business more difficult and expensive than it needs to be as we build and grow the network. Of course in a country of 170 million people there are skilled resources there, but as we transition through from this growth of building the core business into a services business, skills are going to be very important. And we will make sure that we nurture our own talent within the organization, not just look to bring it in from outside. That is very important.”
Willsher remains unfazed by these because of innovation and the industry’s thrust to unfold new service offerings in Nigeria’s competitive mobile market.[blockquote right=”pull-right” cite=”Matthew Willsher, CEO of Etisalat Nigeria”]”There is a real thirst and hunger for connectivity, which really means that we need to build out capacity and we need to build it out almost in direct response to usage and we’re starting to encounter challenges that you wouldn’t normally expect for customer experience. For example, as we improve the quality of our network, you will find that a customer who has maybe been doing video streaming in standard definition is suddenly doing their video streaming in high definition which uses, of course, a lot more data to deliver a better experience. But suddenly they’re paying a lot more.”[/blockquote]
According to the Etisalat Nigeria CEO, “there is a real thirst and hunger for connectivity, which really means that we need to build out capacity and we need to build it out almost in direct response to usage and we’re starting to encounter challenges that you wouldn’t normally expect for customer experience. For example, as we improve the quality of our network, you will find that a customer who has maybe been doing video streaming in standard definition is suddenly doing their video streaming in high definition which uses, of course, a lot more data to deliver a better experience. But suddenly they’re paying a lot more. Is the customer able to control that? No; it is very difficult to control because the browser is selecting the quality of data. So even though we think we’ve improved quality, the customer might not think that’s great value. So as we move ahead with mobile broadband, it is about capacity as customers need it, we’ll have to help customers take control of their data usage so they get great value for the particular application that they’re using it for. So we’re bringing in more and more sophisticated pricing. We’re launching pricing that isn’t based on the difficult-to-understand megabytes and gigabytes, rather, it’s based on hours and days and minutes, so you can buy an hour of video, for example, instead of a gigabyte, which no one really understands. And I think as an industry, we’re really moving in the right direction where we think about customers firstly and we offer them products and services that they can control and that they understand.”
He also expressed confidence in Huawei, the Chinese equipment supplier, who has been the mobile phone operator’s dependable ally in its Nigeria network buildout, upgrade and expansion.
“Huawei has been a very important partner to us; we have around 70% of our network with Huawei and we’ve also recently outsourced our IT operations with Huawei too, so they’re very important business partners for us. That wouldn’t happen without a proven track-record of delivering a great experience for customers, and they’ve done that. One of the big changes we’ve made was to swap out our network in Lagos, which is a city of 20 million people, from another vendor to Huawei. And as that swap happened, we saw immediate improvements in quality and an increase in usage. Now, the performance in Lagos is well beyond the national average, so I’m very happy with Huawei’s performance and that’s why we’ve increased our business with them”, Willsher adds.
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