Saudi Arabia Internet applications are not a threat, but an opportunity |
Arab News - 16 May, 2012
Karl-Michael Henneking, chief marketing and commercial strategy officer of Etihad Etisalat (Mobily) believes the telecom, the Internet and IT sectors in Saudi Arabia are rapidly developing and converging into a mature ICT industry. The transformation of these sectors not only brings new exciting services and applications to consumers and businesses, but also puts the people of Saudi Arabia in an excellent position to benefit from a knowledge-based economy.
"By deploying high speed fixed and mobile networks, telecom operators are building the highways for easily accessing content and information, on websites, apps and via cloud computing services," Henneking told Walaa Hawari of Arab News in an exclusive interview. He added that he sees huge opportunities for Mobily in combining telecom, the Internet and IT capabilities to provide customers with integrated ICT services.
In addition to delivering high quality and reliable services, Henneking points out that leading companies like Mobily have a broader responsibility for Saudi society. With their means companies should support, for example, the education and development of Saudi youth. Mobily is working on related social responsibility programs and activities.
How do you see the impact of free call and mobile messaging application on your business?
In Europe and the United States, the impact of mobile applications that enable customers to make free calls or send free SMSes like 'Whatsapp,' 'Viber' and 'Skype' are quiet significant. Due to Mobily's compelling mobile messaging offers on Blackberry and SMS, as well as the attractive national and international calling rates the impact on our business here in Saudi Arabia is not so severe right now. We at Mobily do not see the new Internet applications solely as a threat, but we actively embrace the opportunities that arise from merging our telecom capabilities with the Internet. We have our own mobile apps market with entertainment, commerce, education and m-Health apps. In 2010 we were the first operator in the Middle East to launch a comprehensive utility app. It helps our customers to check their bills and balance, redeem their loyalty points, activate and deactivate services, check the nearest stores and report any network problem they face. And just last month we launched the world's first prepaid recharge app - the Mobily easy charge app - that allows customers to scan prepaid vouchers via the camera of their Android smartphones and automatically top up their accounts. This service is available to customers of all operators in the Kingdom and abroad, and has seen close to 50,000 downloads in just two weeks from launch. These are only a few examples how we embrace the opportunities of new ICT technologies to keep our customers ahead.
With all that is happening in the telecommunication sector and the great changes, where do you see the Kingdom's telecom heading in the coming few years?
The Saudi market is one of the most progressive ones in the world when it comes to mobile broadband. We have the highest mobile video usage worldwide and we can proudly say that Saudi Arabia has seen the first commercial launch of 4G (LTE) in the MENA region in 2011 by Mobily. In general, mobile operators in Saudi Arabia are doing well in enabling consumers and businesses to benefit from a knowledge-based economy that relies on ICT technologies and services. I believe that the whole sector will continue to develop fast - supported by the Kingdom's forward looking economic and ICT strategies. And we at Mobily are contributing to and even accelerating this development with our huge investments in extending and upgrading our mobile and fixed broadband networks, as well as our investment in human capital.
YouTube and Google have many advertising channels. Do you see those channels helpful to your business?
We do use Google, YouTube, and a broad range of digital marketing channels for communication and branding. Digital marketing helps us reach out better to our customers. On Google we run search engine marketing and optimization. In fact, Mobily was the first Saudi company to use Google paid search in 2007 and last year became the first brand in the Middle East to establish a Google+ page. Furthermore we engage with our customers via social media platforms like Faceboook, LinkedIn and Twitter, which we consider an extension for our brand. We see digital channels as a means to serve our customers better and to make their lives easier with innovative services and technologies. Our award-winning CRM-Twitter integration that enabled our customer care agents to support our users on twitter in a seamless and efficient manner is one example of how we reach a new level of customer engagement that fosters our position as innovation leader in the Saudi market.
How does Mobily work in the social media and what do you do to satisfy your customers?
If we compare Mobily's presence in the social media with other operators, I see ourselves fairly advanced in the region. As already mentioned, we have a strong presence on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ and YouTube. On YouTube we have our own branded channel where customers have access to different types of exclusive video content. To talk in numbers, we have reached more than two million views on YouTube, our fans on Facebook exceeded 380,000, and on Twitter we're followed by more than 150,000 on our two accounts (@Mobily @Mobily1100).
We use social media not only for communication and engagement with our customers, but also as a new way to serve them. For this purpose, we have a dedicated customer care team, which supports our customers on all social media channels.
To let our customers benefit from best practice, we watch regional and international trends in social media marketing quite closely. We do this with the goal to keep our customers ahead in the digital media space.
As the telecom company with the largest broadband subscribers' base in MENA, how do you work toward maintaining the leadership in this direction?
We invest heavily in our network with billions of riyals every year to keep up with the growing demand. We put a lot of effort into building and maintaining a high quality infrastructure that people can use easily, reliably and at the fastest available speed. Our mobile broadband subscriber base has reached 8.7 million and is the largest in the MENA region. Furthermore we make good progress in covering the Kingdom with our broadband fiber network. Next to connecting our customers to the high-speed networks we are further rolling out new ICT services, such as IPTV, cloud computing, exclusive video streaming content and mobile health.
Mobily is known as an innovative company. Can you please tell us more about how innovation fits in Mobily's strategy?
Innovation helps us to grow and differentiate from our competitors. It is a key pillar and enabler in our corporate strategy. The telecom industry today is undergoing a major transformation and a fundamental restructuring among the various players in the value chain. There are a number of forces driving this change. First, the rate of technology evolution. Just think about what kind of mobile phones you used 5 years ago compared with the always-on smartphone. Second, the emergence of new types of competitors, especially from the Internet and the IT industry. Apple, Google, Facebook or Salesforce.com are just a few examples. For us this means that we do not only have to innovate the way we create services as telecom operators, but also how we interact with new players, for example via partnerships or enablement of application developers. Finally, we also need to adapt our business models to benefit from new revenue streams as for example advertising financed services. Overall I think all these developments in our market environment present interesting opportunities for us. Innovation eventually will determine our ability not only to adapt to this change, but to drive it to our favor.
Why did Mobily decide to change its brand direction after six years of success and do you believe that your subscribers are still related to your brand?
I would not say we have changed our brand direction. It is more of an evolution we are going through and a renewal of what and how we do things. I believe Mobily is and will be in the future a very agile brand that carries a start-up spirit in its DNA - although we generate more than SR 20 billion a year. It is fascinating to see how passionate, pioneering and empowering our people are. These values and thus our people define our brand identity. Pioneering means for us, for example, to be first-to-market with technologies and services in the Kingdom and in the Gulf region. We clearly demonstrate this day by day - from the first-to-market 3G in the Kingdom and 4G LTE networks in the region to first-to-market with Blackberry devices and the iPhone, and numerous first-to-market service launches in the Kingdom. With being pioneering we put innovation at the heart of what we are doing and we will soon launch our new brand claim officially that reflects on how we constantly innovate the world of our customers.
How do you see the Corporate Social Responsibility in Mobily?
For us Corporate Social Responsibility means much more than donating money or just supporting charity events. As a leading company in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia we want to give back to the society and help where help is most needed. Supporting the training and development of the Saudi youth is one of the major areas we see. With our school and university activities on the one hand and dedicated programs to support young entrepreneurs in Saudi Arabia on the other hand, we show our commitment to the society. Furthermore we have just launched a new service that enables deaf and mute people to access religious and cultural content via their mobile phones. We also care about the environment with our e-recycling program. These are just a few examples of how we show our responsibility for the society in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. There is more to come.