BEMOBILE UPGRADE HAS BEGUN, SAYS NEW CEO
With money finally in the bank and an experienced hand at the helm, are the fortunes of PNG’S troubled mobile phone company Bemobile about to turn? Business Advantage spoke with its new CEO, Sundar Ramamurthy, to find out. Few people know Papua New Guinea’s information and communications technology sector better than Sundar Ramamurthy. As founder of Data Nets in the early 1990s, he helped pioneer the development of information and telecommunications technology services in PNG before selling his company to Digicel Group in 2010.
Biggest challenge Now, Ramamurthy faces arguably his biggest challenge: turning around Bemobile, which has struggled to compete with its main rival, Digicel PNG, since the latter’s arrival in the country back in 2007. ‘It’s a significant challenge,’ agrees Ramamurthy. ‘The government had the option of shutting Bemobile down. They chose not too. I thought: let’s try and help out and see what we can do.’ ‘The short-term priorities are critical. We need to understand where the network is at, what products we can sell and market and whether they work, and finally our in-house capabilities—what efforts we need to do in terms of recruitment and right-sizing.’ ‘The key things are to have a reliable and robust network, good customer service, and to have an offering that provides a credible choice to the consumer.’ Cash injection The PNG Government has invested US$85 million (K220 million) in the company. With a previous deal involving Hong Kong-based GEMS also failing to produce results, many might see this as Bemobile’s last chance. ‘The new money goes towards building a new network,’ says Ramamurthy. The work is already under way, with the first stage being stabilisation of Bemobile’s existing networks in Port Moresby and Solomon Islands, to be followed by expansion. ‘We’ll need more,’ he acknowledges, suggesting options are being considered for further capital raising. In the meantime, ‘it’s enough to get started and start making an impact’.
Re-engaging with the market Ramamurthy also flags a need for the telco to re-engage with both business and consumers, with the expansion of 3G and 4G services and an increased focus on data, once voice and SMS services are stabilised and robust. ‘Mobile carriers these days are really data carriers, rather than just providing voice calls and SMS,’ he notes.’