Stak­ing it out on the smarty cy­borgs

SmarTone has gone to great lengths to keep its pace as one of HK’s lead­ing mo­bile net­work oper­a­tors. CEO Anna Yip tells go­ing dig­i­tal stands as one big bless­ing for them.

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - BUSINESS HK - Con­tact the writer at tingduan@chi­nadai­lyhk.com

po­si­tioned for en­ter­tain­ment and fun and they dance, tell jokes and play with peo­ple. They can also be used to greet c us­tomers, pose ques­tions and in­tro­duce prod­ucts and ser­vices.”

So far, about one-third of SmarTone’s more than 30 shops across Hong Kong have ro­bots, depend­ing on the avail­abil­ity of space.

On­line stores also make up a key com­po­nent of the group’s struc­ture, en­abling cus­tomers to sign up new con­tracts or en­gage in live chats. Ac­cord­ing to Yip, more than 60 per­cent of their on­line clients buy­ing hand­sets and ac­ces­sories are new cus­tomers who have been us­ing other phone plans.

Com­fort­able foot­print

“So, you can see the big role of dig­i­tal­iza­tion. We’ ll con­tinue to in­tro­duce new el­e­ments at our re­tail stores.”

Yip says they’ve been con­stantly mon­i­tor­ing the open­ing of new stores, and are now quite com­fort­able with their foot­print with hardly any need to in­crease the num­ber of phys­i­cal stores on a mas­sive scale, tak­ing into con­sid­er­a­tion the city’s sky­rock­et­ing re­tail rents.

As a prom­i­nent mo­bile net­work op­er­a­tor, SmarTone is also bet­ting big on de­vel­op­ing the 5G gen­er­a­tion net­work which, Yip be­lieves, will stir an­other “wave” in the in­dus­try in fu­ture. In this re­spect, the com­pany aims to part­ner Swedish tele­coms be­he­moth Eric­s­son in start­ing an in­no­va­tion hub in Hong Kong to show­case their lat­est tech­nolo­gies and drive in­no­va­tion for 5G ap­pli­ca­tion in various in­dus­tries.

SmarTone says it has been fo­cus­ing on its core mo­bile busi­ness and tar­get­ing various mar­ket seg­ments with tai­lored ser­vices and of­fers, in­clud­ing roam­ing pack­ages and fam­ily plans, while ac­tively ex­plor­ing new rev­enue streams.

Pres­sure fore­cast

In its 2017 in­terim re­sults, SmarTone posted a net profit of $393 mil­lion — a slight year-on-year drop of 2 per­cent — say­ing it sees pres­sure on prof­itabil­ity in the sec­ond half of the year with ris­ing spec­trum costs, lower roam­ing busi­ness and slower hand­set busi­ness.

Look­ing back on the com­pany’s mile­stones, Yip reck­ons that the emer­gence of smart­phones in the 1990 s repre- sented the most sig­nif­i­cant event for the in­dus­try, rev­o­lu­tion­iz­ing the scene. In 2012, SmarTone laid claim to be­ing the only Hong Kong mo­bile op­er­a­tor ap­proved by Ap­ple to of­fer 4G on their iPhone 5 models, a big stim­u­lus for the com­pany.

“Of course, go­ing dig­i­tal was the next ma­jor change,” says Yip, not­ing that Hong Kong has al­ways been the most com­pet­i­tive mar­ket and the only pos­si­ble re­course is to serve their clients bet­ter.

As to how Hong Kong could outdo its re­gional com­peti­tors as a smart city, she says the city has its unique strengths, but greater ef­forts must be forth­com­ing from the pri­vate and pub­lic sec­tors, as well as the govern­ment, to drive in­no­va­tion. “We urge the govern­ment to sup­port re­search and de­vel­op­ment of 5G.”

Yip reck­ons that any move to ven­ture into Chi­nese mainl a n d c o r p o r a t e t u r f w o n’ t prob­a­bly be in the tra­di­tional way as the main­land’s mo­bile tele­coms sec­tor is ma­ture enough and dom­i­nated by sev­eral big State-owned en­ter­prises. But, SmarTone is

CAP­I­TAL IDEAS: PETER LIANG

work­ing with Ten­cent and Alibaba in ar­eas like music and pay­ment modes. She sees the main­land as a “stun­ning case study” in terms of how fast the in­dus­try can grow.

Yip was named ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor and chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of SmarTone Telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions in June last year, bring­ing to the com­pany a wealth of ex­pe­ri­ence from her stints at MasterCard, Sin­ga­pore’s United Over­seas Bank and in­ter­na­tional con­sul­tancy McKin­sey and Com­pany.

“En­cour­age­ment from the board, which wants peo­ple who know about tech but not nec­es­sar­ily from the in­dus­try it­self and who can in­ject new en­ergy into the firm, drove me to join the com­pany. I’m all set to ac­cept the chal­lenge.”

“Next year, we’ ll be cel­e­brat­ing SmarTone’s 25 th anniversary,” Yip notes. “Ba­si­cally, we grew up to­gether with the mo­bile telecom­mu­ni­ca­tion busi­ness in Hong Kong.”

“It’s my first job with a lo­cal com­pany and, sud­denly, it’s very re­fresh­ing.”

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