Upgrading the business

08 July 2016
Upgrading the business
Rene Meza, Ooredoo Myanmar CEO. Photo: Mizzima

Since 2011, telecommunications has become one of the most successful businesses in Myanmar. Even now the market remains vibrant not only for foreign mobile operators but also for the people they serve. The Myanmar telecommunication sector is currently operated by three main service providers, one is the government’s MPT and the others are Norway’s Telenor and Ooredoo from Qatar. Ooredoo was the very first foreign mobile operator in Myanmar and it was the first SIM-card distributor in August 2014. In this interview, Mizzima business reporter Aung Thura meets with Rene Meza, Ooredoo Myanmar CEO and talked about their business and its investment plan in an environmental and social management system (ESMS).
Is Ooredoo continuing to grow?
I have to say business or rather business performance of the company in the last couple of quarters has been quite encouraging. I think we are putting in place a series of commercial initiatives that will accelerate growth in the market. There has been further mobile penetration and more importantly what is obvious is that we are putting the power of the internet in people’s hands. In the last couple of quarters, we have had over one million new customers to our network. Now, we have over 7.5 million customers across Myanmar. We currently have 4000 towers and cover 85 percent of the population and we plan to obviously continue in the same direction in the next few years.
What would you say are the challenges in terms of licensing, building towers and other local priorities and so on now the country has a new government?
I do not think we have any challenges, a lot of the challenges that we had we overcame at the beginning of the journey. Most of those challenges are behind us. We had a lot of challenges at the beginning of the journey when we were trying to build the towers, trying to access very difficult areas of the country and trying to get permits, laying fibre optic cables and expanding coverage. Now, most of these problems are behind us. I would not say we are a problem free industry at this stage. We obviously continue to have challenges. In this industry like any other industry it probably around infrastructure. The more rural areas we go to the higher the cost of infrastructure it is because there is no power grid available. We have to put our own power generators and when we put our own generators sometimes people close to them are not happy so we switch off the generators and this affects the towers which cannot provide service to the people. But we are enjoying the way we go.
Recently, Ooredoo Myanmar announced its investment in an Environmental and Social Management System (ESMS), can you tell us about it?
Well, the focus of the environmental and social management system is to do business in a responsible way in the country. Looking after labour and work conditions not only for our own employees but also for our business partners and suppliers. It is about looking after health and safety standards for protecting the lives of the people who to do business with us ,not only, as I said, inside the organisation but also people who build towers and maintain our equipment out there. People have to work on electricity sometimes in difficult conditions in this market. It also is about protecting the environment, it is a way we get permits to build towers, and it is about the way we dispose of our waste technology. In the countryside, we will manage our suppliers responsibly who maintain our generators and handle fuel. So, it is about doing business responsibility as we continue in investment and our journey in Myanmar, so we are doing this through a collective approach based on the organisation and it is part of the culture of doing business for us in Myanmar. We have been working closely with our business partners, suppliers and employees as well.
How does it work and how do the public or customers gain through the ESMS system?
I think the overall impact of doing business responsibly is the environment, it is basically protecting not only the lives of the people but also the environment. What are the benefits for people in Myanmar? Well, by having strict standards, how to build towers responsibly, we can avoid towers falling down and eventually damaging people’s property or killing people. By focusing on labour and working conditions, we can avoid having children working for us building towers. And, by doing business responsibly, we are looking after not having fatalities. With contractors and subcontractors and people who basically work on infrastructure and do business with us in this country. So I think the overall benefits are for the people and it goes beyond that, there are benefits for the environment by doing business in a responsible way.
Does it actually benefit Ooredoo or the community?
I think it mainly benefits everyone. We are responsible for having reputable cooperation in doing business in Myanmar, so obviously we have our reputation to protect. Importantly, we help the lives of people and the environment and we have to look after and care about this. Thus, I think this is fundamentally more important when it comes to our policy and our approach to the ESMS system.
So, what is the best example of this ESMS system?
ESMS is a framework which is embedded in the organisation. Within the framework, we can carry out our business in the country. The framework basically establishes what our contractors should or should not do when it comes to building infrastructure, building towers and laying fibre optic cables. It establishes what they should or should not do when they deal with fuels when they deal with the disposing of filters from generators for example. So, it is a framework and it basically protects lives and the health of people and more importantly the environment.
Is the ESMS system in the community now?
Yes, the system is live and, obviously, this is our journey. So, we want to achieve what all the other countries or companies have achieved in terms of ESMS. But I think what is important as the program continues is we are engaged with our business partners and training and educating employees about the importance of doing business responsibly. That is why we set up this framework to do business in Myanmar and it is important for protecting the lives of people and the environment as well.
Do you think your ESMS could really provide for the people's needs?
I think what it does is protect the interests of the people. People care about health, environment and lives. People care about children. I think this framework or this management system can actually address such concerns and what people care about.
And what are the main obstacles?
We do not see any obstacles. That is a large benefit. It is embraced by all stakeholders in the country. Everyone wants to do businesses in a responsible way. We are dealing and discussing and sharing with the government issues regarding the ESMS system. We have been working with suppliers and business partners and we have been training our employees on the benefits of the ESMS system, policy and program. So, we do not see and we do not foresee any obstacles.
Is the ESMS system aimed at upgrading Ooredoo’s business or Ooredoo’s success?
I think this is aimed to protect the interests of the company, and to maintain reputable cooperation, it is aimed to protect, more importantly, the interests of the public in general.
How did you see the past two years? What lessons have been learnt?
We have learnt a lot. The first and biggest lesson for us was data or rather that the internet is huge in this country. When we launched in August 2014, we looked at what strategies are the worst. We introduced 3G services in Myanmar bringing the power of the internet to people’s hands through low-cost smartphone or our basic feature phone. At the beginning, we thought the market would take time for that explosion to happen. Obviously, we did not prepare for the potential market we would become. After 10 or 12 months into our journey, we realised market potential is big, and people are ready for internet and data. So, we had to change our model. And we said, we cannot be a player for people who can afford expensive smart phones only. We have to be a brand or service provider for pretty much everyone in this country. We realised the access to own a smartphone. A smartphone that is sold for 30,000 kyats at the moment in Myanmar. So, it is accessible to a much wider audience and we had to set up our market and compare what we thought the market would be at the beginning of our journey. Within an adjustable business model, we now are now present pretty much all over the country and we have a much wider distribution network, we have sim-cards and air time mobile levels across every store, every mobile dealer, and every point of sale across Myanmar. I think this was the biggest thing we learnt.
What are your expectations for Ooredoo at the end of the year?
I think the industry is growing, it is a relatively new industry here. It is not the industry of two years ago when we had just launched services in this country. I think there is still room for everyone to grow, there are four players coming up at the end of this year. Competition is good, we welcome competition. I think this is good for consumers, it is good for the government and even for the competitors because it keeps on your toes. And this ensures better customer experience and superior service. We feel very positive over the outlook for the industry in the country and in the future.
What is your future plan?
The future remains very optimistic. And we will continue to expand our coverage in the next couple of years. We will hopefully cover 90 percent of the population in the next 18 months, we continue to build a 3G network and now we have 4G as well in areas that we see an opportunity for 4G. We have to get ready for a new competitor, and we are ready for fun. As I said our future is bright and we are very, very, optimistic about the outlook in Myanmar. The economic prospects are also very encouraging more investors are coming, the market is opening, the economy is growing and infrastructure continues to develop.