Shailendra Naidu is the Chief Commercial Officer for Uganda Telecom Ltd. He has worked in Asia, Europe, and Africa in the telecoms industry.
He worked at Warid Telecom. He told Alon Mwesigwa how his team planned to turn around utl to boost the telecoms’ subscribers.
Tells us how you plan to bring back customers who have left utl?
We try to answer a simple question: when a customer wants to buy or use a mobile telephone, how can we make Uganda telecom a preferred network of choice? Another question we try to answer is, once our customer comes onto the network, how can we deliver our products and services so that he/she can be happy with Uganda Telecom? We also try to measure the changing needs and wants of our customers.
But there is so much aggressiveness in the market, done through promotions, price cuts, and advertising, which one may feel is not the case with utl.
Every organisation has a core character, and one has to understand it before taking the organisation to the next level. One of the biggest advantages of Uganda telecom is being there for so long in this country and being a full service operator – ranging from fixed line services to enterprise to mobile, and data services. Probably it’s the only full service operator in the market today.
So, while we can be very strong in the enterprise segment, what is seen outside to customers is mostly the retail space. When the retail space is very active, the enterprise space is always played in the lower key. Think of any organisation in Uganda; they certainly use Uganda Telecom products and services – fixed line, mobile, and internet services. Almost every single large financial institution uses us for the secure transactions. So we are a strong partner in that space.
We would want to come back and play a strong part in the retail space. And in the last three quarters, we have seen more customers come back to utl. If you see the way they are communicating, it’s more youthful, fun loving. We create a lot more value for the valueseeker segment.
In some sense, we are the national carrier; we are a Ugandan company. Hence, we said let’s be the most affordable telecom company for Uganda in the retail space.
We are growing pretty strong. In cliché terms, this is a new and improved Uganda Telecom, and more responsive.
Looking at the data market, how can you convince consumers that you have the best internet service?
There are two facets of data. One is the enterprise side of business and the other is the retail side. We play in the enterprise segment. We are one of the strongest players there. When it comes to home internet, we again have strong products there. We have routers specifically for homes with high speed internet options.
On mobile data – a 3G space – we are still limited only in Kampala. But we are working on that space to see how we can provide specific needs for our customers who want high speed internet. That section is growing and so is the general data segment. In a year or two, the demands of data will be growing significantly and we are trying to work on that to see how we can meet that demand.
What are some opportunities you see in the telecoms industry that you need to tap into?
One of the good things about the Ugandan market is that it is still not saturated. It’s kind of a mid-ranged telecom penetration market. If you look at the number of users in Uganda, it is still around 17 million users, with many people owning two lines. So, out of the 36 million [people], we are talking about 35 to 40 per cent penetration of actual usage of a mobile phone.
So the penetration levels are still reasonably low, hence the growth potential is very high. As the new set of customers comes into the telecom market, we can completely consolidate on this space of users. Another important segment playing pretty strongly is the mobile money platform. While we have a platform, we are going through major upgrades in terms of the mobile money space.
We are bringing in the most secure and the latest platform – probably the best system ever. We believe that’s one area where we will play a critical role there. In the financial space, we want to go and meet the group of Ugandans who are migrating from a cash economy to a cashless economy.
You have lowered the prices for some of your products. Aren’t you worried of a fall into a trap where you can’t meet the operational costs?
Our products are not cheaper. They are value for money products. They meet different customer needs. If there is a customer who wants to meet their telecom needs for as low as Shs 5,000 a month, we have products for them. We have products for different customers: the low users, medium and high end users. No business runs by making losses.
Every business is there to make and create value for the shareholders. Telecom business is an infrastructure heavy business; we need to be constantly reinvesting in the business and that can only happen if you are making money. Whatever we provide or sell, the sell price is always higher than the cost of production.
It comes down to the amount of profit one always wants to make. That defines the pricing decision from our side. We are not making a loss.
Today, if you walk into the market, you will see more spots where utl is present.