Beecell shows how mobile value-added services providers can stay relevant in a fast-evolving technology market.
By Dina al-Wakeel
Gone are the days when we just used our mobile phones to send and receive SMS and MMS messages. On-the-go broadband technology now gives us superfast access to the whole Internet in the palm of our hand. But Beecell CEO Bashar Hantouli believes his company which operates in Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Ramallah, Sudan, Algeria, and Morocco, is a great example of how regional mobile value-added services providers can successfully adapt to huge leaps in mobile technology.
How have you retailored your services in response to regional changes in mobile technology?
Our specialty is content services over mobile; we sign agreements with mobile operators, and also license providers. We have agreements with the BBC, AFP, Disney, Sony, and others. Since 2004 to date there have been some changes, the biggest of which was the move to smartphones. This allowed people to consume content over apps, most of which are free. It definitely affected us and made us move into apps. We create Android and iOS apps, a lot of which are used to consume our content. But until today we feel that you still have to pay for the premium-type content, like the World Cup. In certain markets like Yemen, Sudan, and Algeria, SMS is still popular, while other markets are maturing very quickly like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, and Jordan to a certain extent.
What are some of the services that you used to offer but are no longer in demand?
Over the past 10 years things changed, it used to be the SMS, then MMS, and now WAP push and videos, as well as apps. When we first started people were into downloading ringtones and wallpapers, but that declined over time.
What are some of the challenges you faced since your establishment in 2004, and is OTT one of them?
The big challenge we faced was expanding; opening offices in the Arab world required a major effort. In Saudi Arabia it took us a year-and-a-half to open an office due to procedures and red tape. In Sudan it took us two years. It depends on the regulations, as some countries require a local partner and this is difficult if you don’t already have someone you know who understands the business. In Jordan the issue is always finding the right people to employ. I don’t think there’s a lack of local talent, but a lack in experienced and [confident] talents.
OTT is still not very popular in the Arab world. We are content suppliers, regardless of how people consume our content. The OTT is another venue to sell content at the end of the day. The platform providers, who provide OTT services need content, and considering our relations with local content providers in the countries we operate in, we can provide them with local content for each country.
What are your future plans, and where do you see the market heading?
Our future plan is to expand into more markets; Central Africa and the rest of North Africa like Egypt and Tunisia. As for the product line level, we are venturing into mobile advertising. Currently we only provide paid services, but by going into mobile advertising we will provide sponsored content services. We also just established a company to produce animation and TV content that will be used for both mobile and OTT. I think that content creation will expand dramatically because there’s a lack of Arabic content for mobiles and Internet. Content over mobile will always be consumed, regardless of the method.