Umniah CEO Ziad Shatara is overseeing an ambitious plan to transform his company from a mere mobile operator into a complete digital service provider.
Umniah set up shop in Jordan in 2005, breaking the duopoly that had existed in the sector for several years.Right from the outset, the company, which is owned by Bahrain’s Batelco Group, had to work the hardest to gain market share. But all the effort appears to have paid off, with the telco now serving 30 percent of Jordanian mobile users.
Looking ahead, Umniah CEO Ziad Shatara believes the focus today should be on transforming Umniah into a digital operator that provides homes, corporates, and individual users with the very latest in telecom services.
What distinguishes Umniah in the Jordanian market?
Umniah is the challenger. I believe it always has to be the most creative operator in the market in order to gain market share, thus challenging one regional player and one international player. It’s quite a competitive market and for you to survive such a market condition you have to be the most creative operator. We believe that we have been creative enough. We always found services that excite the users, depending on the stage or the period we are in. We started off focusing on the pricing, later on we focused on the nature of the services and the way we package the services to our customers, and now we’re going through a different era where we are focusing more on service quality and the new digital services that excite the users and make their lives easier.
How has the Jordanian market transformed since your inception in 2005?
The market is becoming so segmented that micro-segmentation becomes key. There used to be a few major segments, such as youth or corporate. Today this way of segmenting the market is not going to work. For example, the students at the University of Jordan don’t have the same needs as students at a university in the north or the south. Although all are young, they have different needs and we have to cater to everybody’s needs. Being creative in creating those services for those different segments is key for us.Even the way you reach these customers has changed. You need to advertise where they can see you, like on social media.
Ookla recently gave you an award for providing the fastest wireless network speeds in Jordan. What does that mean for you as a company?
This tells us that all the investments that we did in 2015 to upgrade the network, in terms of 3G and 4G, has paid off and has allowed us to offer our customers the best services in the market. We are very proud about of it. It also puts more pressure on us to continue doing what we did.
How do you think your sector will evolve over the coming years?
I think we are living in the Dark Ages now and there’s so much room for us to be creative. I don’t believe that in a year’s time we should be doing business the way we are today. Today you don’t call an airline to make a booking, you always use tools to book your ticket, the same with many other industries. We were lagging behind as mobile operators in this area. We continue to do business in the most traditional ways.
So what are you doing to bring about change in the industry?
Our consumers enjoy our services online to buy, purchase and get serviced in a very instantaneous manner. We allow them to choose themselves rather than telling them what they need. We believe that Net Promoter Scores for consumers that use digital services is much higher than those that come in the shops or get serviced in the traditional manner. And since we care about the satisfaction of our customers we are going to focus on this in 2016 and 2017. We’ve revamped our mobile app and this is only the first small step in our journey towards becoming a digital operator. When you say Umniah the first thing that comes to the consumer’s mind is that we are a mobile operator only, while we are an operator that offers end-to-end services addressing the needs of the consumers, mostly the youth, and we also have products and services that serve the corporate and the government sector. We are one of the market leaders in this area offering ICT solutions. The new schools connectivity project with the government is one of the biggest projects in the Kingdom, and it’s being implemented by us. Furthermore, we want to focus on the home connectivity and ICT solutions for homes, including the Internet of Things. We shifted our focus and really put so much effort into the home segment, and the good thing is that the market is accepting us.
How does your recent tie-up with Cisco fit into these plans?
We signed a partnership with Cisco to offer a set of services. We believe that companies should focus more on doing their business and leave the telecom and communication part to us to solve their problems. The traditional way of doing business was for a new office to buy the PABX, headsets, and handsets. The way we are going to do this is that you subscribe to a service and we do everything for you, including hosting your PABX. Umniah’s Corporate Voice is an end-to-end service that meets consumers’ needs,from the desk top all the way to connectivity. Since everything is going to the cloud we believe that this is one area that’s needed everywhere. It can be customized and upgraded for the user and it helps them to focus on what they need to do rather than fixing PABXs.
Do you think the pricing competition over voice will continue and can prices go down any further?
We always want to offer our customers the best value for money. Whether it means the price will be lower or the value offered is higher,that depends on the market dynamics. I believe Jordan is one of the cheapest countries when it comes to connectivity and mobile prices worldwide. It’s a great thing for the consumer and it keeps up on our toes. We don’t always enjoy it but it means working harder. We always have to be creative in the way we do business and we believe that’s one of Umniah’s best strengths. We are very efficient in the way we’re doing business and for this reason we are always able to trim the fat to increase our efficiency.
What are some of the other challenges that you face in the Jordanian market?
There are so many challenges. But that’s the nature of this industry. First, we have to plan our network and make sure that everything we invest in today will last us or be beneficial for the user for the coming 15 years. We also need to invest in the right frequencies and meet the needs of the future. These are the major challenges that come with the telecom industry. When it comes to the country and the environment in specific, I think the whole business sector has been suffering these past two years from escalated energy prices. We welcome the recent decision to lower these prices, and I think it’s only the first step in the right direction. As a telecom provider we used to pay 10 times what the consumer pays per kilowatt hour. So with the price reduction, we now pay nine times what they pay. We believe that there has to be further adjustment in the energy prices that would be fair to us and allow us to invest. Taxes are another big issue for us and the consumer. We believe that tax payment is a good behavior, we want to pay taxes to help develop the country, but reasonable taxation is what we are looking for. A 44 percent tax rate is a bit too much.
How developed is the Jordanian market today in terms of telecom services, and what services do we lack?
The industry is evolving, but when you look at Jordan we offer 4G and we offer fast fiber connections to homes, a whole set of services that many European countries wish to have. The mobile data speed that the consumer enjoys in rural Jordan is similar to the mobile data speeds that many consumers enjoy in Europe. The problem is that coupled with this, there are basic services that have to be offered like mobile number portability. If you bought your number 10 years ago you don’t have a choice today to choose a different provider because you will have to change your number. We believe that this is not the right setup for the industry which offering these sophisticated services and yet faces this simple barrier. It’s a service that can be offered and we don’t have to recreate the wheel;mobile number portability between the operators is offered everywhere else.
What are your future plans for the Jordanian market and how much more would you like to invest here?
The peak investment was done in 2015 and 2016, which was when we invested in three things: the upgrade of our 3G network and the expansion of the coverage and capacity, the second was 4G mobile, and the third was the fixed broadband network which was upgraded by building two new networks. We believe that the award that we received from Ookla was the direct consequence of a company that invested in such a heavy way and also in the right way. We segmented the users, we knew that fixed consumers need a lot of volume, and we didn’t put the mobile traffic on the fixed network. We will invest as much as it takes to keep this service level to our consumers. Because we believe it will pay back and we believe that a satisfied customer will remain with us. We’d like to see ourselves as the digital operator in the country in 2017 and transform the way we serve our customers from the traditional ways.
The connectivity infrastructure that we as operators built in this country have brought the second generation of utilities, which is connectivity. We are offering such an important service which makes us the enabler of the digitization of the economy.