Star performers

CommsMEA's inaugural awards ceremony held in Dubai last month brought together many of the leading operators, suppliers and individuals for an occasion to be remembered. The telecoms sector in the Middle East and Africa region is making headlines on a global basis, and the 14 awards handed out at the gala event highlighted the strength and depth of the talent being attracted to the region.

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By  Published  September 30, 2006

Over 300 industry participants gathered together at a Dubai hotel in September to share in an event aimed at applauding some of the best operators in the region for conducting their businesses in such a manner as to make headlines globally.

The combination of buoyant economies, strong demand for communication services, and the widespread investment in infrastructure - be it property development or road construction - has resulted in the telecoms sector in the region being boosted significantly over the past few years.

With numbers of mobile subscribers in the Middle East region alone approaching the 100 million mark, and with the technological and strategic leadership positions being assumed by many of the service providers in the region, it was a difficult task for CommsMEA's panel of three distinguished judges to rate one application over another.

Given the progress that has been achieved by the telecoms sector in the Middle East and Africa, and the desire by the parties notching up these achievements to let a wider audience know about their successes, CommsMEA was inundated with applications for the 14 categories for which winners were to be selected.

A short-list of applicants was then passed on to the panel of independent judges, who deliberated over the nominees and made their decisions independently of one another.

Winners were chosen by consensus amongst the judges, What became apparent during the assessment process is the fact that many operators are busying themselves with the improvement of their networks and the offer of new and innovative services and applications, many of which are not publicised as much headline grabbing mergers and acquisition activity, as just one example.

The gala event itself was a who's who of the regional telecoms scene, with c-level participants keen to find out whether their efforts had been rewarded by the leading telecoms publication in the region, and if not, which one of its competitors had been successful and for what reason.

While there was definitely a competitive edge to the event, the over riding sense on the night was that a community had been brought together to focus its attention on the significant progress that talent from the region had played a key role in driving.

Only 14 companies and individuals could be acknowledged on the night, though there are dozens of success stories that occur every month, which CommsMEA intends to continue highlighting.

 

CommsMEA Awards Winners

Most Innovative Non-voice Service Fastlink - Fastlink Blog Service

Best Universal Service Offering Inmarsat

New Telecoms Service of the Year Oman Mobile - Go SMS 90091 Parking

Customer Service Provider of the Year Etisalat

Telecoms Technology Investment of the Year Wateen Telecom (Warid Telecom)

Telecoms Brand of the Year Roshan

Telecoms Deal of the Year

MTC Group acquisition of Celtel International

ISP of the Year LINKdotNET

Fixed Line Operator of the Year Batelco

New Entrant of the Year Mobily

Africa Mobile Operator of the Year MTN Group

Middle East Mobile Operator of the Year MTC Group

Overall Operator of the Year Etisalat

Lifetime Achievement Award Mohamed Ibrahim, founder and chairman of Celtel International


Most Innovative Non- voice Service

Fastlink Blog Service


Fastlink is moving beyond the boundaries of voice communications to lead the mobile data revolution in the Jordanian market.

After researching blogs in general, the company was intrigued by the idea.

Fastlink was the first operator to launch MMS in the Middle East and Africa in July 2001, and building on the vast experience that Fastlink had acquired, the progression towards mobile blogs (Mblog) seemed quite natural.

Fastlink is currently looking into implementing video blogs (Vlog), and thanks to mobile technologies the operator was able to provide users with the whole blog element that is web-based and at the same time offer a mobility element via MMS and SMS.

Fastlink was the first to introduce the Mblog service in the region (http://blog.fastlink.jo).

It is provided in English and Arabic.

The Mblog debuted on Fastlink's website in September 2005 in a bid to continue the operator's commitment to service the local community.

Fastlink's goal was to allow its customers to interact with each other; and with that mission in mind Fastlink's Mblog provided an excellent medium for users to voice their opinions and thoughts.

Each Fastlink subscriber is offered a free blog page; and the operator only charges for MMS and SMS usage.

Each user can personalise their profile to their liking.

Fastlink's Mblog is making people use the internet to a much larger degree and is also improving the knowledge of MMS.

Ever since the operator introduced Mblog services, MMS usage has increased noticeably.

New Telecoms Service of the Year

Oman Mobile - Go SMS 90091 Parking

How to use Mobile Parking

Oman Mobile subscribers can use this service via the automatic pay machines available in the public parking lots upon sending an SMS showing the car number and code and the minutes of parking required to 90091.

The subscriber will then receive a confirmation message with the ticket number car number, car code, day/time start and expiry.

Five minutes before expiry of the requested time, the user will be notified through an SMS.

Should a user wish to extend the parking period, he repeats the SMS ticketing procedure.

The system provides several free of charge services in connection with the mobile parking such as knowing the parking status at any time by sending an SMS with the word "status", "time" or "help" to 90091.

An SMS reply will be forthcoming.

The new system will save time and effort for the user and overcome the problems of availability of the parking fee as the mobile parking follows the post- paid method for Mada subscribers, and the prepaid for Hayyak subscribers.

Having a clear vision, Muscat Municipality worked closely with Oman Mobile to bring to reality the first of its kind in the Middle East, mobile parking via SMS.

The innovation will follow the same pay-park system and alleviate parkers' inconvenience of having insufficient coins when parking.

This is a pioneering service in the region and is likely to be adopted in many markets in due course.

Best Universal Service Offering

Inmarsat

As the world's leading provider of global mobile satellite communications, Inmarsat has built a global business designing, implementing and operating innovative satellite networks.

Today, Inmarsat embraces the planet as it stands at the forefront of mobile satellite communications, capitalising on more than 26 years' experience to expand access to communications globally across the enterprise, maritime and aeronautical sectors and going beyond the call of duty.

Inmarsat provides communications solutions to the enterprise, maritime and the aeronautical sectors, with over 350,000 mobile satellite users registered worldwide.

Inmarsat delivers its services through a global network of 260 partners, operating in 86 countries, who include some of the world's largest telecoms companies such as France Telecom, KDDI, Stratos, and Telenor.

The distribution network includes more than 440 service providers. Inmarsat's enterprise solutions offer a flexible range of services, including the ability to rapidly set up a temporary office environment for individuals or small teams who need access to applications that they would typically have back at their office base.

For over 26 years, Inmarsat has been leading the maritime mobile satellite service sector, enjoying strong growth year on year Almost 7,000 aircraft are fitted with Inmarsat aeronautical communications systems.

These aircraft encompass airliners, those operated by businesses and private individuals, and by a variety of government agencies, including the military.

Customer Service Provider of the Year

Etisalat

In the last year, Etisalat has targeted three specific delivery areas to boost its customer contact and ensure the best possible service delivery.

The operator is now more accessible than ever before.

It currently has 43 business centres located throughout the UAE.

The operating hours at those centres has been extended - they are currently open from 8am to 8pm - to ensure customers can reach the operator at times that are convenient to them.

In addition, Etisalat has a network of 116 cash payment machines at convenient high-traffic locations including shopping malls and other community spaces, so customers do not have to visit branches.

In the last year, the operator has also enabled e-payment via its online portal.

Etisalat also has more than 400 sales stalls, and 8,000 recharge outlets.

Etisalat support centres, helpdesks and phone enquiry services have also been upgraded to be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, year round.

The Ajman-based Etisalat contact centre, the central site for all phone-based helpdesks including the 181 Directory Enquiry and 800-6100 Toll-Free eCompany helpdesk, handles nearly 7 million customer enquiries per month (5.5 million for the directory enquiry service, and 1.4 million other calls).

On a daily basis, the *181* number alone handles an average of 185,000 calls, with the remaining 47,000 calls concerning other contact centre functions.

The *181* number, boasts an average response time of three seconds.

Telecoms Technology Investment of the Year

Wateen Telecom (Warid Telecom)

In a deal with both regional and global significance, Wateen Telecom Pakistan, part of part of Warid Telecom International and the Abu Dhabi Group led by Sheikh Nahayan Mabarak Al Nahayan, this May awarded a contract for the roll out of a nationwide 802.16e WiMAX solution.

Wateen Telecom intends to deploy a nationwide wireless broadband voice and data network in Pakistan, with initial deployment to be completed by the second half of 2006.

The service provider will be able to offer broadband data services covering residential and corporate voice, internet access, corporate IP virtual private network (VPN) and public hotspots.

"We are committed to deploying Pakistan's first nationwide network - the largest 802.16e WiMAX network in the world with over 1 million users - and to enabling access to a range of voice, internet, data and value-added services via the network.

This is an important milestone in realising our vision of 'Broadband Pakistan' and eliminating the digital divide by providing coverage to areas that are currently underserved," commented Tariq Malik of Wateen Telecom.

Wateen Telecom’s Voice and Enhanced Voice Services are a complete telephony solution based on the latest IP/MPLS backbone, allowing customers to easily scale from a single to a hundred lines while employing features such as IP Centrix, Conferencing, IP Telephony and Video Calling.

Wateen also offers a broad range of corporate and residential voice services.

Fixed Line Operator of the Year

Batelco

About a year ago, when CommsMEA conducted Peter Kaliaropoulos' first detailed business interview as the CEO of Batelco, he said that he had not been at the company long enough to ascertain why Batelco had not followed, or led even, in the regional expansion that has intensified in the mobile telecoms space in the past three or four years.

Today, almost 15 months into the job, Kaliaropoulos believes he has a better grip on the possible reason.

"I think the answer is simple to us now, given 12 months of hindsight," stated Kaliaropoulos.

"I believe the previous management team of Batelco had no experience outside Batelco and outside Cable & Wireless, and the guys running this company were engineers."

Having spent much of his career working in competitive telecoms markets around the world, Kaliaropoulos is in no doubt that the competitive pressures present in the modern telecoms industry globally leaves little room for network- rather than market-focussed strategies.

"I believe the previous management team did not have enough understanding of competitive markets.

Today, with the changes I have made to the team, I have 225 years of competitive telco experience and related IT industry experience," Kaliaropoulos explained.

He has wasted no time in tapping into the rich knowledge pool he has assembled.

Batelco is set to launch HSDPA commercially before the end of the year, and continues looking to drive further cost savings out of all of its day-to-day operations.

Telecoms Brand of the Year

Roshan

In July 2003, in the midst of turbulent political recovery, Telecom Development Company Afghanistan Ltd., launched network operations under the brand name Roshan, which means "light" in the two most often spoken languages, Dari and Pashto.

Listening to the Afghan people through continuous research into their desires and needs is the foundation of Roshan.

The brand is a storybook success, topping unaided brand recall of 99.4%.

No other brand has achieved this level of awareness and fondness, where the knowledge of brand promotions and even general advertising is non-existent.

Research into the attitudes and values, lifestyles and emotional insights of the ethnically diverse Afghan people has been the key to Roshan's brand success.

All advertising communications, product names, and campaigns bear branding that is ethnically sensitive and understood by both Dari and Pashto speakers.

In mid-2005, Roshan launched the first brand specific campaign with a theme of "Relationships and Progress."

Relationships with family, friends and busines s partners, are of a paramount importance to the Afghan people.

Progress in terms of modernity and convenience, as well as inclusion to the rest of the world were also found to form part of the aspirations of the Afghan people.

The media market in Afghanistan is extremely fragmented.

Telecoms Deal of the Year

MTC Group Acquisition of Celtel

In March last year Kuwait operator MTC Group announced the acquisition of pan-African mobile operator Celtel International for a consideration of US$3.4 billion in cash.

The deal brought to an end moves by Celtel to list shares on the London and Johannesburg stock exchanges later that year.

Under the terms of the offer, MTC acquired immediately 85% of Celtel's issued capital for US$2.84 billion, and agreed to acquire the remaining 15% within two years.

Celtel's founder and chairman, Mo Ibrahim, held a 23% stake in the operator, employees held 11%, while external shareholders included CDC Capital Partners and WorldTel Africa.

The acquisition was funded through a combination of existing cash and newly raised debt.

Given the high valuations being placed on greenfield and operational entities across the Middle East and Africa, there had been some concern that MTC overpaid for Celtel.

However the extraction of value and the extension of synergies is something that over time is making the deal appear increasingly astute.

"What needs to be considered during this period of high valuation of assets is which entity is the best owner of property," suggested Kristoff Puelinckx, managing partner of Dubai-based Delta Partner Group.

"What companies chasing assets need to consider is whether the synergies present as a result of the deal are enough to offset the prices being paid.

In the case of MTC and Celtel, I believe MTC's ownership of Celtel is driving value.”

ISP of the Year

Linkdotnet

As a subsidiary of Orascom Telecom Holding Company, the largest integrated telecommunications services provider in the region, LINKdotNET is not only built on a firm foundation of sound business practice and healthy profitability, but mainly on passion for technology, evolving into a mainstream connectivity and service provider in the region.

The internet service provider offers its clients a wide range of turnkey solutions for corporate sector clients and commercial solutions for end users.

Its experience in these areas allows it to provide fully integrated technology solutions, thus earning a reputation of being a true "one stop shop".

The company is committed to providing clients with the most innovative solutions, thus ushering them into the 'digital revolution'.

For the past years, LINKdotNET has worked extensively on upgrading its international bandwidth, closing one of the largest bandwidth deals witnessed in Egypt in order to continuously satisfy the ongoing growth and demand for being 'always connected".

This trend is shaping the way people live and communicate, thus leading to "the digital lifestyle revolution".

Keeping this in mind, the ISP has equipped its highly reliable network infrastructure to support new protocols and technologies, thereby enabling triple play and more value added services to customers.

LINKdotNET has also sought out partnerships with many international companies in the field, such as Infonet, with whom it has been partners since 1994.

New Entrant of the Year

Mobily


Saudi Arabia's second mobile operator Mobily celebrated its first birthday, announcing that its subscriber base has passed 3.83 million.

Launching on May 25 2005, the operator managed to reach its first million users in just three months of operation.

The Mobily network now covers over 65 Saudi cities and more than 13,000 kilometres of highway, excluding national roaming agreements with the incumbent mobile provider, Al Jawal.

Mobily, run by Etisalat, planned to install over 2,500 base stations and cover 90% of the kingdom's population by mid 2006.

The operator is working with Alcatel, Motorola, Ericsson and Huawei to complete this project.

More than 880 base stations have already been installed for 3G and 3.5G services, and Mobily has commercially launched its 3G network.

Mobily offers subscribers an array of value added services such as location-based services, international roaming for prepaid SIM cards, and GPRS and GPRS EDGE roaming.

The entry of Mobily into the Saudi market has raised the nature and quality of the services available in the market, and Al Jawal has responded by bringing to market a range of applications, including its own location-based services.

Africa Mobile Operator of the Year

MTN Group

MTN Group's swoop on Dubai-listed Investcom in May heralded a whole new chapter in the development of Africa's most profitable operator.

Just a matter of weeks prior to the announcement of MTN's stunning US$5.5 billion offer for 100% of Investcom, the company's CEO Azmi Mikati had told CommsMEA of his satisfaction with the progress his company had made in 2005, and expressed his confidence regarding the prospects faced by the operator in the year ahead.

No mention was made of his ongoing talks with Africa's thoroughbred operator MTN, and a mere three weeks later, MTN Group's unassuming CEO Phuthuma Nhleko stepped forward to announce the deal to acquire all of Investcom.

The two operators had previously made contact last year, with Investcom deciding to seek its listing on the London and Dubai bourses rather than consider a takeover bid.

Given the 27% premium MTN's offer represented to Investcom's trading price as at April 28, Investcom's shareholders made some serious cash from the transaction.

Nhleko has many points to justify the price his company offered.

"You have to accept that multiples in the last yearand- a-half have risen and in recognising that fact, you must realise that almost 30-40% of this transaction has been paid for using MTN paper," Nhleko told CommsMEA at the time.

"Our share price has also risen in the last eighteen months, so that sort of neutralises that, or mitigates the price that we have paid.

Secondly, when they (Investcom) listed they raised some cash, so we are also using cash to buy cash," he adds.

The integration of Investcom into the MTN Group bolsters an already impressive footprint of operations and investments presided over by MTN Group.

The operator recorded a strong increase of 27,5% in adjusted headline earnings per share to 278,5 cents (US$0.35) for the six months to end-June 2006.

Revenue for the six months increased by 17.6% to R20.2 billion, while earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) increased to R8.7 and adjusted profit after tax to R5.0 billion.

This reflected increases of 20.9% and 21.3% in EBITDA and adjusted profit after tax, respectively, compared to the six months ended September 30, 2005.

The MTN Group recorded 25,4 million subscribers at the end of June 2006, a 9.4% increase from December 2005.

"We are pleased with the Group's solid performance across all operating units and subscriber growth over the past six months following the Group's acquisitions during 2005.

The performance reflects our strategy of investing in quality networks and bringing innovative and affordable products to consumers," Nhleko said.

Operations acquired during 2005 accounted for 1.986 million subscribers, comprising 8% of the Group's subscriber base as at June 30, 2006.

These operations contributed 5.8% of revenue and 4.5% of EBITDA for the period under review.

MTN has changed its segmental reporting to reflect three major operating regions: Southern Africa; West and Central Africa; and Middle East, North and East Africa.

Southern Africa contributed 58% of revenue and 48% of EBITDA.

The West and Central Africa region contributed 40% and 50% of revenue and EBITDA respectively, while the Middle East, North and East African region did not contribute significantly as MTN Irancell's commercial launch occurred later in the year.

In MTN's largest two operations - South Africa and Nigeria - the changes occurring in Africa's burgeoning mobile sector were reflected.

MTN South Africa recorded 10.44 million subscribers at the end of June 2006, a 2% increase from December 2005, with growth expected to increase in the second half of the financial year.

MTN Nigeria increased its subscriber base to 9.64 million, a 15% growth since end- 2005.

Acquisitions are expected to accelerate in the second half of the year and blended ARPU remains strong, declining only marginally to US$18.

MTN Nigeria continues to hold a strong leadership position in the local market with an estimated 45% market share, a slight decrease from 47% in December 2005 owing to increased competition.

Middle East Mobile Operator of the Year

MTC Group

MTC first publicly announced its expansion strategy in 2003. Entitled '3x3x3', it described how the operator wanted to gain regional status within three years, an international presence within six, and have a substantial global footprint within nine.

Had someone heard this '3x3x3' plan in 2002, they may well have deemed it ambition beyond reality.

At the time, MTC was an operator with its business solely in Kuwait, a country with a low population, a mobile penetration rate nearing saturation point and seemingly limited growth prospects.

But just one year later, MTC had made significant progress with regard to the first prong of its strategy - to become a regional player, and its portfolio has continued to spread ever since.

In 2002, MTC partnered with Vodafone, one of the international operators it admired, in a co-branding deal that saw its domestic operation branded MTC-Vodafone Kuwait.

The arrangement offered the Gulf operator access to Vodafone's global roaming opportunities, shared marketing initiatives as well as allowing the small Kuwait operator to benefit from the endorsement of the largest operator in the world in terms of points of presence.

When MTC successfully bid for the second GSM licence in Bahrain in April 2003, it took its relationship with Vodafone to the kingdom, and MTCVodafone Bahrain launched commercial services in November that year under a three-year co-branding agreement.

Just over two years on, MTC's Bahrain unit had a 26% share of the market with some 202,000 subscribers at the end of 2005.

In 2003, MTC also entered Jordan, acquiring a 91.6% equity interest in the country's Fastlink operation from Orascom Telecom for US$423.9 million, bringing its total equity interest in Jordan's first GSM operator to 96.5%.

Despite competing in what is considered one of the region's most competitive mobile markets, Fastlink has since managed to carve out a dominating lead, having seen its subscriber base skyrocket from 700,000 at the end of 2004, to over 2 million today.

Its market share stands at over 55%, a real achievement considering that it is battling alongside three other mobile operators for subscribers.

Fastlink contributed around 39% to MTC's overall Middle East subscriber base at the end of 2005, and according to Fastlink's CEO Saad Nasir, around US$150 million was invested in the network during 2004-2005.

The operator now covers 99.9% of the country's populated areas directly or through temporary booster networks.

At the end of 2003, another important landmark was achieved when MTC won an interim licence to install and operate a GSM network in Southern Iraq.
Under the brand name MTC-Atheer, commercial operations were launched in March the following year, and growth has been explosive.

By the end of 2005, the operation had invested some US$430 million and attracted 1.07 million subscribers.

Just six months later this subscriber base had almost doubled to 2.082 million. MTC-Atheer's network offers full GPRS capability with a plethora of new services capable of supporting 1.5 million customers.

In 2004, MTC arrived in Lebanon having been awarded a four-year management agreement by the government for the country's Libancell GSM operation.

Later that year, Libancell became MTC Touch, the group's fifth country in under 24 months and a clear indication that its strategy was not one to be taken lightly.

At the end of June 2006, MTC Touch was estimated to have a 50% share of the Lebanese mobile market.

Arguably MTC's most tenacious move came in April 2005 when it snatched pan-African operator Celtel International for US$3.36 billion from under the nose of would-be-suitor MTN of South Africa.

The deal gave MTC access to 13 African markets with a combined population of over 250 million.

While the price MTC paid was significant, around US$680 for each of Celtel's 5 million plus subscribers, Africa's low mobile penetration rates and poor landline infrastructure offered significant growth opportunities.

Overall Operator of the Year

Etisalat

Etisalat has witnessed one of the most successful years in the corporation's history.

It has achieved tremendous growth in its customer base, new services and solutions, operations and revenues.

Etisalat has achieved unprecedented figures of growth with regards to mobile penetration both regionally and internationally.

Penetration in the UAE exceeds 120%, with recent numbers of mobile subscribers showing that the operator services more than 5 million users in the UAE.

The number of fixed line subscribers also experienced solid growth in the last year, expanding by 30%, which is considered one of the highest growth rates in the region.

The number of internet subscribers grew by 40% during the year, again marking one of the highest growth rates in the region.

Etisalat attributes these and other successes to its commitment to launch the most state of the art solutions and services as well as bundle some innovative offers and packages.

Etisalat's technologies, services and solutions, including the Smart Home, High-Speed Downlink Packet Access (HSDPA), the BlackBerry solution, push to talk, Tahadath, fixed line SMS, along with Al Shamil and Ahlan packages, are testimony of how the corporations is keen to develop the telecom services.

This year has also seen Etisalat making strategic investments across the region, with significant wins coming in Afghanistan and Egypt.

This move is in line with the corporation's plans to expand operations and investments by targeting promising markets.

Etisalat has started talks to enter more than 15 markets and if successfully completed would result in the operator achieving its ambition to be among the world's top 10 telecoms operators in the world by 2010.

This year Etisalat also unveiled its new consumer-centric identity, strategy and outlook, which are aimed at carrying the operator through the new millennium.

It is the first major overhaul of this nature in the company's 30-year history.

The new Etisalat identity, based on 'Reach', has a vision of a world where people's reach is not limited by matter or distance.

Etisalat aims to extend people's reach by providing the service and technologies that enable individuals and businesses around the world to extend themselves so they can reach each other, reach their aspirations, ambitions and the best the world has to offer.

Etisalat has been the region's pioneer in launching some state of the art services and technologies.

The corporation was:

· The first to launch a cellular network in the region in 1992

· The first to launch Public Frame Relay/ATM services in the region (1991/1993)

· The first to launch full country coverage GSM service in the region (September 1994)

· The first in the region to launch commercial internet (1995)

· The first in the region to launch Internet Network Access Point (NAP) - EMIX (August 1998)

· The first in the region to launch MMS (July 2003)

· The first in the region to launch commercial 3G services (December 2003)

· The first in the region to launch HSDPA (December 2005)

· Blackberry (May 2006).

"This ship has to go faster," said Mohammed Al Qamzi, Etisalat's CEO.

Even though Etisalat has always prided itself on being at the forefront of technology, he feels there is more to do.

"We have to develop a lot of our network to be state of the art."

Mentioning the current magical word of convergence, he points to access technologies such as WiMAX and fibre-to-the-home to push services to customers, as well as IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS).

"If we have an IMS platform, then we just add services.

That is our target in the coming 18 months."

Even venturing further a field, Etisalat has recently signed an agreement with Samsung to trial the South Korean version of wireless broadband, WiBro.

"This can deliver 18Mbps, at a distance of 120km, while on the move," claims Al Qamzi, who says he witnessed this first hand in Korea around five months ago.

Al Qamzi is inspired by BT's ambitious and expensive plans to rollout a Next Generation Network (NGN) across the UK.

Etisalat is planning a similar, if smaller, scale operation.

Multi-vendor trials began last year, and there are now two switches each in the cities of Sharjah, Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

"These six switches are more than enough for the whole of the UAE," Al Qamzi explains.

Etisalat is now just waiting for the UAE's Telecommunications Regulatory Authority to finally allow VoIP communication before it can provide NGN services nationwide, a move that would transform the variety and ease of development and offer of services, as well as dramatically reducing operating costs for the operator.

Lifetime Achievement Award, Mohamed Ibrahim

Founder and Chairman of Celtel International

Mohamed Ibrahim, founder and chairman of Celtel International, has dedicated his lifetime to the development of mobile telecommunications and subsequently bringing them to his own, vast continent, Africa.

He is a model for people everywhere striving to achieve business success in a manner that both ethical and genuinely beneficial to the lives of the customers it reaches.

Ibrahim's story is that of a man of singular energy and determination.

An oft repeated anecdote made by Ibrahim is of a journey by taxi one day in Geneva when, as a young man he became curious about how the driver could speak to his company HQ on the radio without any line of sight.

It was this incident that piqued the curiosity of his intellect, enough for him to dedicate years of study and eventually a career to developing the potential of mobile technology and bringing the benefits of this technology to a continent in dire need of communications: Africa.

As a student at the University of Alexandria in Egypt his fascination with the technical intricacies of mobile telecommunications landed him into his first job as a radio engineer with Sudan telecom (PTT).

Determined to look beyond the opportunities his native country offered him he went to the United Kingdom for further studies.

He progressed swiftly through the ranks of academia at two leading engineering universities in the UK for his Master's degree and subsequent PhD.

He then joined British Telecom's mobile company, Cellnet, as technical director, where he designed and launched one of the world's first cellular networks.

Seeing the potential for digital cellular, Ibrahim founded his own consultancy company MSI.

The company helped mobile operators around the world with the efficient design of their networks and developed the world's leading network design software "Planet", which is still widely used today.

MSI was so successful as a company that it was acquired by Marconi in 2000 for US$600 million.

This enabled.

Ibrahim to focus on bringing mobile communications to Africa at a time when the established players showed no interest in the African continent or understood the opportunities it had to offer.

Ibrahim saw the potential for mobile to bring mass-market telecoms to a continent with les than 1% fixed line penetration.

Winning over reputable investors to this point of view was another completely different challenge.

Where Ibrahim saw opportunity, many investors saw only risks.

In the end however his persistence paid off when not one but three major investment funds took an equity position in his company, Celtel.

Ten years later and Ibrahim is now one of Africa's preeminent business leaders.

He has in many ways become a symbol of African business success, something that is rare in a world where most images of Africa portrayed in the media are of poverty, famine and war.

Ibrahim's success can be traced to two fundamentals that have underpinned the way he has conducted his business from day one: it is based on very solid principles of ethical business conduct and Ibrahim has always shared business success with partners.

From the very beginning, Celtel conducted its business based on best practice principles of corporate governance.

In doing so, Ibrahim has shown the world that one can conduct a successful business in Africa without compromising one's ethical principles.

This resolute stance against corruption is an important characteristic of Ibrahim that makes him stand out among those who argue one cannot do business in Africa without engaging in such practices.

To achieve this goal, he has always worked with reputable (local) partners and shareholders who shared his vision on corporate governance.

He was successful in attracting parties such as the World Bank's IFC, the UK's development bank, CDC (currently Actis), private banks including ING and a range of private equity providers, and was recognised by winning the inaugural client leadership award from the IFC when Celtel was described as "a company that sets the gold standard for its peers anywhere in the world, a company that is a role model for others, regardless of sector region or country".

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