Local knowledge

Sameh Atalla, CEO of Mobiserve, tells CommsMEA about the importance of local expertise, why data will be a key driver in the coming years, and how his company has carved a niche in the fiercely competitive telecoms equipment market.

Tags: BahrainKuwaitMobiserve (www.mobiserveholding.com)Saudi ArabiaSouth AfricaUnited Arab Emirates
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Local knowledge
By  Roger Field Published  February 22, 2010 Communications Middle East & Africa Logo

Tell me about Mobiserve. When was the company founded, and what is its main focus?

Mobiserve actually started in Egypt in 1999, working for one operator and doing one service which was building telecom infrastructure. At that time we had less than 100 employees with revenues of something like $5-10 million a year.

Today we are in nine countries including Egypt, Algeria, Tunis, Morocco, UAE, KSA, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and we provide 11 types of services that complete the chain of services for telecom operators. We now have 5000 employees and our revenues grew to US$175 million over the last 10 years.

What services do you provide exactly?

We provide full turnkey solutions for operators, from site acquisition, arranging the permits, to building the site and installation of the vendors’ equipment. We are certified to do the commissioning, installation, integration and even testing. Once the site is operating we also do the maintenance. We also do other optional services such as drive test optimisation, site audit and facility management. On top of this, we also have business services complementary. We can do printing, enveloping and distribution for bills.

Who are your main clients?

Our clients include operators and vendors. Where operators require a vendor like Huawei or Ericsson to offer a full turnkey solution, we are sometimes subcontracted by the vendor. Our main vendor clients are Huawei and Alcatel-Lucent, but we have worked with all of them. Most of our engineers are certified for all of the main vendors’ equipment.

What is the main advantage for a vendor to work with Mobiserve?

This is where we compete. We have the local knowledge and the expertise of the last 10 years building and maintaining networks. Our strategy from day-one was that we localise. We hire locals, we train them, send them to different training schools and we start working with a local team. This is how we can maintain a very cost effective solution to our vendors and operators.

All our employees in Algeria are locals, and the same applies in Pakistan and Bangladesh. I can keep costs lower and maintain a higher quality and efficiency by setting certain standard operating procedures that are covered by experts in each country.

The main cost in the business of installation and commissioning is human capital, so if my human capital is being localised and is well trained, it is a good cost saving.  We can build quicker and we get things right first time, so a team makes one visit to fix a site.

Which countries represent your biggest markets?

Egypt, Algeria and Pakistan were our biggest markets, but now the UAE is booming and KSA is becoming strong with Mobiserve building for more than one operator. In 2009 we opened in three new countries – KSA, Kenya to serve also Burundi and Central Africa, and Morocco.

How did the financial turmoil of 2009 affect the company?

Definitely there were financial implications in 2009 with many other subcontractors closing down. Comparably we have been doing very well, our numbers were close to 2008, and what saved us in 2009 was the diversification of our geographic distribution and level of services. Being in new countries and different countries balanced our income a lot, and being able to do more than one service also helped. When operators stopped building new sites, we still had to maintain their networks. This is the beauty of being diversified.

What are your hopes for 2010?

We hope that 2010 will be much better than 2009. My expectations from my knowledge of the market and talking to operators, is that Q2 of 2010 will show a breakthrough again and operators will start spending and building. If we look at telecommunication it is a necessity. It is a commodity like transportation or food and beverage. You cannot stop using your phone, and you have to grow the network to accommodate for that. It is not like tourism which can be cut.

2010 we will see growth and in 2011-12 we will see more growth in the number of subscribers and much more on data revenue. Most of the revenue growth in the next few years will come through data transfers.

Companies are becoming dependent that you can read your email on your mobile device. This is a lot of transfer downloading and a lot of gigabytes being transferred here and there, and this is the new stream of revenue for telecom operators and this will show great growth in the next few years.

In light of this huge demand for data, do you think many operators in Africa will look to bypass 3G and leapfrog to LTE?

The gap between the latest technology has been getting smaller. The timeframe of catching up has been getting smaller and smaller so my expectation with LTE in the Middle East and North Africa is that we will catch up much faster. Operators know that the new revenue streams will come from the faster data transfer and downloading and so forth, and hence it will not be a niche market any more, it will be a big portion of the revenue and hence the willingness to spend on the upgrade of their technology will be faster.

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