Staying the course

Telecom operators must seize on new types of services and collaborate with companies in related industries in order to proposer

Tags: Arab Advisors GroupBatelco JordanBatelco Middle East CompanyEtisalat International - UAEMBC (Middle East Broadcasting Corporation)
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Staying the course CEOs from the region's leading telcos discussed some of the major challenges they face during the Arab Advisors' Convergence Conference in Jordan.
By  Roger Field Published  July 5, 2010

It is not very often that the telecom sector finds itself compared to Marilyn Monroe, but then the annual Arab Advisors’ Media and Telecoms Convergence Conference – where the unusual comparison was made – is far from being a run-of-the-mill event.

While Hakam Kanafani, chief business development and synergy officer, Oger Telecom, initially raised eyebrows among a crowded conference room, his passing references to past Hollywood stars soon made sense.

Indeed, for Kanafani, the telecoms sector is suffering from the “Marilyn Monroe syndrome”, and must seek ways to reinvent itself. Just as the famous actress fell out of favour in the 1950s as attention turned to the likes of Jane Fonda and Sophia Loren, so the region’s telecoms sector is also facing an upheaval as attention shifts to applications such as social networking sites.

“We were also the star of stars,” Kanafani said of the telecom sector. “We were the industry that created so much shareholder value, we were an industry where everyone wanted to be.

“But all of a sudden, heads are turning the other way, heads are looking to the Googles, the Facebooks, the Twitters, even customer-generated content, and the iPhone.

“When everybody expected that mobile companies will serve these technologies, people are now looking at Apple.”

Kanafani also gave a sober appraisal of some of the challenges facing the telecom sector, including lower margins, increased competition, and growing pressure from capex combined with declining voice revenues, and the difficulty of profiting from a surge in data use.

These challenges became a recurring theme broached by the CEOs at the event, indicating just how operators have been forced to play catch-up amid the growing popularity of data, applications and user-driven content that is often being carried at the operators’ expense.

For Peter Kaliaropoulos, CEO, Batelco Group, much of the problem has been due to a fixation by operators on technology rather than customer experience.

“We as an industry keep focusing too heavily on the technology and how quickly we can roll out new technology.

“We keep forgetting that other companies around us are creating a tremendous customer experience and taking value away from our industry,” he said.

“So we should spend a little more time focusing on customer segments, not just looking at customers generically, but looking at specific segments of customers and at what drives their decision making.”

Kaliaropoulos said that operators needed to consider offering more tailored services and bundles to create a more customer friendly operation. However, he conceded that for many operators, the task would be difficult.

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