‘Low-cost Op­er­a­tion is our DNA’

Voice&Data - - FRONT PAGE - Ibrahim Ah­mad & Kr­ishna Mukher­jee ibrahima@cy­ber­me­dia.co.in x-kr­ish­nam@cy­ber­me­dia.co.in

Voice&Data: You have been here in In­dia for al­most a year now, so what were some of your key achieve­ments in the past 12 months?

Tan­veer Mo­ham­mad: When I joined Uni­nor al­most a year ago, at first ac­tu­ally I got really thrilled by the en­ergy, by the pas­sion of the Uni­nor team and also by the as­pi­ra­tion level of our cus­tomers be­cause I have been trav­el­ling in all the cir­cles and I am very pleased to see the young pop­u­la­tion, the kind of as­pi­ra­tion they have and how they are de­pend­ing upon the com­mu­ni­ca­tion as a whole to up­lift their liveli­hood.

So, what I im­me­di­ately re­al­ized is that this is a very hap­pen­ing place and here the re­la­tion­ship be­tween op­er­a­tors and cus­tomers are so strong that if you can play it to­gether then there will be lot of other things for our­selves and we can also help the so­ci­ety to be­come more em­pow­ered.

Se­condly, when I joined we were in some sort of tran­si­tion be­cause ini­tially we were fo­cussing very much on voice, in 2014 we started do­ing some sort of data as well so what we re­al­ized was that go­ing for­ward, we started un­der­stand­ing that what should be the fu­ture needs and what type of prepa­ra­tion we need for the fu­ture. So, im­me­di­ately I also started look­ing into the fact what kind of prepa­ra­tion is really re­quired at our end, so that when the real de­mand strikes we can also de­liver at the right point of time.

And then, we re­al­ized that some prepa­ra­tions need to be taken in terms of net­work, part­ner­ships we have like the me­dia part­ner, the IT part­ners so that to­gether in a short time we can de­velop our­selves.

It is also about net­work readi­ness, trans­mis­sion readi­ness, and some of the things that are very in­te­gral part for your op­er­a­tional need like en­ergy, rental which forms big part of your op­er­at­ing cost be­cause go­ing for­ward we have to de­liver in a de­lib­er­ate way to be­come cost-ef­fec­tive.

To give you an ex­am­ple, to run the net­work you need en­ergy but to the cus­tomer it really does not mat­ter. Whether we have put up our base sta­tions in a per­fect air-con­di­tion­ing or may be in the open, he is just both­ered about the ser­vice whether it’s com­ing or not.

And we have to ad­dress all th­ese parts so that we get what it re­quires and get rid of what ac­tu­ally is not re­quired to pro­vide the ser­vice. All th­ese things come af­ter re­al­iza­tion and I am very happy to­day that at least we have made a plan that in the next couple of years what should be our fo­cus ar­eas. So, plans and foun­da­tions are in place.

Voice&Data: Please share some of the ma­jor high­lights of the plan.

Tan­veer Mo­ham­mad: The net­work con­sists of three ma­jor el­e­ments one is the ra­dio net­work that is the base sta­tion, core net­work that is switch­ing and the trans­mis­sion net­work. We will re­new our ra­dio net­work with lat­est tech­nol­ogy so that we use spec­trum ef­fi­ciently. In In­dia, spec­trum is a very scarce re­source and the aim is to make it ef­fi­cient not only for voice but also for data us­age.

And when it comes about up­grad­ing to a new tech­nol­ogy, it should be seam­less, we should be able to do it very smoothly. So, we are ad­dress­ing them, mod­ern­iz­ing the whole ra­dio net­work. So, all 24,000 sites we will be re­new­ing over the next two years. Then about the core part we will be re­new­ing that as well so that we have the readi­ness for the fu­ture.

And we have the in­tel­li­gence built in so that we understand cus­tomers’ ex­pe­ri­ence in a bet­ter way and ad­dress that part. An­other im­por­tant thing is the trans­mis­sion. In Uni­nor, we op­er­ate in an out­sourced kind of a model -- all our in­fra­struc­ture providers are from the tower com­pa­nies, the trans­mis­sion is from me­dia com­pa­nies.

To give you an ex­am­ple, just in a minute you can talk only for about 60 sec­onds but in a minute there’s no bound­ary that how much data you are con­sum­ing.

Hence, the need of trans­mis­sion will in­crease man­i­fold, and we need to have a right kind of model there so that we can ad­dress that part as well.

Fi­nally, ev­ery­thing has to be done in a cost-ef­fec­tive way and we will be ad­dress­ing our en­ergy consumption, our runover net­works ser­vices, man­aged ser­vices or other things, so that we have the scal­a­bil­ity built in our model so that we of­fer ser­vices in a cost-ef­fec­tive way, con­tin­u­ing with the slogans of ‘sabse sasta’ call, ‘sabse sasta’ in­ter­net, etc.

Voice&Data: You have spent a lot of time in Bangladesh and the mar­ket to some ex­tent looks sim­i­lar to that of In­dia. What would be your key learn­ings from that mar­ket that you will be bring­ing here?

Tan­veer Mo­ham­mad: First thing is that when we talk about net­work mod­ern­iza­tion, in Bangladesh most of the op­er­a­tors have al­ready gone through this phase.

That gave me the con­fi­dence to chal­lenge our­selves in that way, if we can do that in Bangladesh why can’t we do that in In­dia. Bangladesh is also a coun­try

The net­work con­sists of three ma­jor el­e­ments one is the ra­dio net­work, core net­work and the trans­mis­sion net­work. We will re­new our ra­dio net­work with lat­est tech­nol­ogy so that we use spec­trum ef­fi­ciently. In In­dia, spec­trum is a very scarce re­source and the aim is to make it ef­fi­cient not only for voice but also for data us­age.

where en­ergy is very scarce, same as in In­dia but the kind of ef­fi­ciency what I have seen there if we can bring that to In­dia, then, I think a huge amount of elec­tric­ity could be saved.

En­ergy ef­fi­ciency in net­work in Bangladesh is good and what we have seen is that there’s an op­por­tu­nity of im­prov­ing it in the range of 30%.

And if you can do that, it would help us in two ways – to save our cost and the saved elec­tric­ity could be used in many of the ru­ral house­holds, where there is no elec­tric­ity at this mo­ment so it can be ex­tended to th­ese parts. We will also be re­duc­ing our car­bon foot­print in the process, which would be also help­ful. And oth­er­wise, it’s the same cul­ture, same spirit, pas­sion and en­ergy you see here.

Voice&Data: One of the in­ter­est­ing things about your pro­fes­sional ca­reer is that you were a CTO with engi­neer­ing back­ground, but now you have moved from a CTO’s role to that of a COO. How do you think the change in role will help Uni­nor?

Tan­veer Mo­ham­mad: I worked as a CTO in Grameen Phone, where I joined at an en­try-level po­si­tion and grew with the com­pany. Ac­tu­ally, I step in all the lad­ders, and this helped me to gain ex­pe­ri­ence from the dif­fer­ent phases of chal­lenges, mind­set of dif­fer­ent groups and the ecosys­tem that really im­pacts the busi­ness.

For me, the most im­por­tant thing is al­ways to know the ba­sics. To know what really im­pacts your cus­tomers, cus­tomers’ ex­pe­ri­ence and what­ever we do if it does not ben­e­fit your cus­tomers it has no sense. At times, we overdo things with­out com­pletely un­der­stand­ing how it would ben­e­fit the cus­tomer and I think that ex­pe­ri­ence I am bring­ing in and here I am get­ting more op­por­tu­ni­ties, be­cause the busi­ness en­vi­ron­ment is a bit dif­fer­ent, in Bangladesh it is mostly in­sourced, where we have to de­velop most of the things, here there is al­ready a de­vel­oped ecosys­tem of out­sourc­ing.

What I am able to do here is that I can really fo­cus on some of the core el­e­ments with­out really be­ing wor­ried about some of the things, which are han­dled by our part­ners. So that’s why we are able to talk about the 24,000 mod­ern­iza­tion plans (of base sta­tions) over a pe­riod of two years. I don’t think that would have been pos­si­ble in Bangladesh, as ev­ery­thing would have been han­dled by us.

So, it’s about not los­ing the fo­cus from your ba­sics but ex­pand­ing so that you can go closer to your cus­tomers. That kind of change or evo­lu­tion I can see in my­self.

Voice&Data: Some­times we get the sense that the tech­nol­ogy guys are very en­thu­si­as­tic about bring­ing in some new tech­nolo­gies and as a re­sult, there is some tus­sle be­tween the board and the tech­nol­ogy guys. Do you think that hav­ing a tech­nol­ogy back­ground helps you to man­age the cur­rent role bet­ter?

Tan­veer Mo­ham­mad: What I really be­lieve in is definitely I have to take the re­spon­si­bil­ity of the tech­nol­ogy but at the same time my role is to en­sure that proper bridg­ing is there be­tween busi­ness and the tech­nol­ogy and as I said ear­lier no tech­nol­ogy would be suc­cess­ful un­less and un­til it is el­e­vat­ing the cus­tomer ex­pe­ri­ence.

There are more peo­ple in my team so I would not en­gage my­self in de­tail­ing about the tech­nolo­gies but rather I would en­gage my­self in making sure that we are bring­ing in some­thing that is help­ing the busi­ness.

I am try­ing to widen up my role a bit. So that, in­stead of fight­ing in be­tween tech­nol­ogy and busi­ness do­main rather it would be about how can I bring two parts to­gether.

Voice&Data: One of the tenets, Uni­nor be­lieves in is to be best in ba­sic ser­vices, mass-mar­ket dis­tri­bu­tion, low-cost of oper­a­tions. Can you share some in­stances when you were able to do all th­ese suc­cess­fully?

Tan­veer Mo­ham­mad: We started with voice then we started get­ting into data. So, we started giv­ing the ba­sic data ser­vices to our cus­tomers but the ba­sic term is very dy­namic term. What is ba­sic to­day might be dif­fer­ent from what is ba­sic tomorrow. This whole trans­for­ma­tional jour­ney is help­ing us to take care of ba­sic which­ever is com­ing into the fu­ture. So, to­day it is about What­sapp and Face­book, tomorrow it could be videos as well. The whole jour­ney is about get­ting ready for that.

About the mass-mar­ket dis­tri­bu­tion, I think, it has been Te­lenor’s big­gest fail­ure in In­dia so we will con­tinue to fo­cus on that. Not only that, from tech­nol­ogy side we will sup­port the dis­tri­bu­tion so that they have all the in­tel­li­gence, the smartest tools, and we can have the right kind of vi­sion among the huge dis­tri­bu­tion base.

As far as low-cost op­er­a­tion is con­cerned, this is our DNA be­cause at this mo­ment we be­lieve we are do­ing a good job in terms of voice, and we want to ex­tend that to data as well. So, what we will do in the fu­ture, we will meet the cus­tomer ex­pe­ri­ence; we will meet the ever evolv­ing ex­pec­ta­tion of our cus­tomers but definitely in an af­ford­able way so

Low-cost op­er­a­tion is our DNA be­cause at this mo­ment we be­lieve we are do­ing a good job in terms of voice, and we want to ex­tend that to data as well. So, what we will do in the fu­ture, we will meet the cus­tomer ex­pe­ri­ence; we will meet the ever evolv­ing ex­pec­ta­tion of our cus­tomers but definitely in an af­ford­able way.

that our cus­tomers can ac­tu­ally see the value for money.

Voice&Data: So, the plans are in place for af­ford­able ser­vices for the next two years, could you please give us a ball­park of sub­scribers’ base that you are tar­get­ing dur­ing the time-pe­riod?

Tan­veer Mo­ham­mad: One of our core fo­cus ar­eas is to in­crease the foot­print of our cus­tomers. I can’t give you the ex­act num­bers but there’s quite an ag­gres­sive plan for that.

On top of that, we al­ways check the level of our of­fer­ings for voice and data and our in­ter­nal tar­get is to ex­cel on th­ese fig­ures. In a way, we try to get rid of all un­nec­es­sary things and fo­cus on the core things to be rel­e­vant to the mar­ket.

What I can tell you is that Te­lenor is fo­cussing long-term in In­dia and that’s the rea­son we are un­der­tak­ing huge steps, which also show that we will keep on ex­pand­ing.

Still, we are not cov­er­ing a large sec­tion of the pop­u­la­tion and we plan to ad­dress those quar­ters and that ev­er­chang­ing de­mand of our cus­tomers.

Voice&Data: You men­tioned about as­pi­ra­tions but do you think with 4G com­ing in, peo­ple will still be in­ter­ested in 2G? Don’t you think peo­ple will as­pire to get into the 4G plat­form?

Tan­veer Mo­ham­mad: We have to understand the re­al­i­ties and prac­ti­cal­i­ties, the new tech­nolo­gies are com­ing in but at the same time de­vices are also very in­te­gral part for avail­ing those tech­nolo­gies and th­ese are quite lim­ited. At the same time, we are keep­ing a very close fo­cus on how things are de­vel­op­ing and as part of our trans­for­ma­tional jour­ney we are also preparing for our­selves for the fu­ture and there is other part of the ecosys­tem like the spec­trum, etc., so we are also ex­plor­ing dif­fer­ent op­por­tu­ni­ties to en­rich our­selves.

When the right time comes as we have the right kind of prepa­ra­tion we will be keen to up­grade our­selves to the avail­able path to be rel­e­vant to the mar­ket. We are keep­ing a very close fo­cus on that and preparing for the fu­ture.

Voice&Data: In that di­rec­tion could you please share a bit about the lat­est tech­nolo­gies for your net­work and IT in­fra­struc­ture that Uni­nor will be in­vest­ing in?

Tan­veer Mo­ham­mad: We are get­ting our ra­dio net­works ready for all the new tech­nolo­gies. In the fu­ture, it will be only soft­ware up­grade what­ever path you would like to go for, the core will be ready for ev­ery­thing. We are also work­ing with our trans­mis­sion part­ners and we are get­ting ready for the ever-in­creas­ing de­mand on the data net­work.

Sim­i­larly on the IT sys­tems, the prod­uct of­fer­ings will be more com­plex like bundling etc., so we are preparing for that as well. On the BSS part, we will start work­ing on data an­a­lyt­ics to understand our cus­tomers’ de­mand be­hav­iour in a much bet­ter way and we can really start meet­ing their de­mands, so we get­ting into the smarter BI sys­tems, big data plat­forms, we are ac­tu­ally tak­ing the right steps. In the last couple of years, we got ac­tively en­gaged with our cus­tomer in­ter­face, we up­graded our CRM sys­tem, we gave more in­sights to our call cen­ters so that they have a bet­ter vis­i­bil­ity of our cus­tomers. It’s a jour­ney not only on the net­work side, but the over­all IT sys­tem needs to be in sync with it. So, in the next couple of years it’s go­ing to be very in­ter­est­ing.

Voice&Data: How much in­vest­ment are you plan­ning in tech­nol­ogy in the next 2-3 years?

Tan­veer Mo­ham­mad: This is go­ing to be the high­est in­vest­ment what­ever we have done in the last 4-5 years. We are in­vest­ing quite a lot. Th­ese fig­ures are lit­tle dy­namic but we have got ap­provals from the board to carry on this trans­for­ma­tion jour­ney.

Voice&Data: Qual­ity of ser­vice has been an im­por­tant is­sue in the tele­com sec­tor and most of the tel­cos blame lack of base sta­tions, spec­trum for that. How do you see this prob­lem?

Tan­veer Mo­ham­mad: Of course, to ad­dress the is­sue we need spec­trum, right base sta­tion at right place, right kind of ca­pac­ity so definitely th­ese are pre­req­ui­sites, but we are tak­ing it one step ahead wher­ever there a call drop we are try­ing to com­pen­sate the cus­tomers by giv­ing few min­utes free. We also mon­i­tor it very closely, very proac­tively.

Voice&Data: Are you also look­ing at tak­ing up en­ter­prise cus­tomers in a big way?

Tan­veer Mo­ham­mad: Once the net­work mod­ern­iza­tion is done, we will then be ready to eval­u­ate whether we get into the en­ter­prise seg­ment or not. At the mo­ment, the main fo­cus is on con­sumers’ part and grad­u­ally en­ter­prise would come as we get ready.

We are get­ting our ra­dio net­works ready for all the new tech­nolo­gies. In the fu­ture, it will be only soft­ware up­grade what­ever path you would like to go for, the core will be ready for ev­ery­thing. We are also work­ing with our trans­mis­sion part­ners and we are get­ting ready for the ever-in­creas­ing de­mand on the data net­work.

—Tan­veer Mo­ham­mad, COO, Uni­nor

—Tan­veer Mo­ham­mad COO, Uni­nor

At a time, when most tel­cos are mulling to join the 4G band­wagon, Uni­nor, which has 2G pres­ence in six tele­com cir­cles in In­dia, is con­fi­dent that its out-of-the box tech­nolo­gies and ‘sabse sasta’ mantra will help it re­main afloat. Voice&Data in­ter­views Tan­veer Mo­ham­mad, Chief Op­er­at­ing Of­fi­cer, Uni­nor, to understand its busi­ness strate­gies for the next couple of years.

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