Africa Outlook spoke to Maixent Bekangba, the new Managing Director of Airtel Madagascar about how he is working to bring a better service to the Country.
Q&A WITH MAIXENT BEKANGBA, MANAGING DIRECTOR, AIRTEL MADAGASCAR
Tell me about Airtel Madagascar’s operations in your own words
Maxient Bekangba (MB): Airtel is Madagascar’s leading telecommunications company in terms of subscribers as well as revenue market share. The company product offering includes 2G and 3G wireless services, mobile commerce and enterprise services. Airtel Madagascar had over 3 million customers across the country as of the end of September 2014. Our vision is to make Airtel the most loved brand in the country. To do this, we are servicing the community with value-add services such as having the largest network coverage, superior quality of service, engaged employees, innovative products, and intensive CSR projects focusing on health, education, youth, gender and ICT. We try to encapsulate everything we do in our motto: Madagascar my country, Airtel my Network. Airtel Madagascar is one of the only operating companies where 50% of the executive committee members are female and of native citizenship and we are very proud of this.
What has Airtel Madagascar been doing over the last twelve months?
(MB): Airtel Africa is investing over one billion US dollars in its operations on the continent this year. As Madagascar is one of the countries where the teledensity – a measurement of how many telephones are available per capita – is low (around 35%) compared to the average African country (55-60%). As a result of these figures, we are one of the key beneficiaries of this investment fund. Any investment we do receive will be directly put towards our 2/3G network coverage deployment and upgrade, capacity improvement, upgrade of direct services and other parts of the business that require funding. When we have 3G in place in the country, we will begin to phase out 2G handsets and focus more on affordable 3G capable Smartphones for the data generation. These investments will strengthen our dominance in the Madagascan market with the objective of always maximising the value for our customers, shareholders and employees.
What are the biggest challenges Airtel Madagascar has faced?
(MB): I think our main challenge remains the income per person and the demand for our products in the country. Madagascar is one of the poorest countries in the world, where a significant portion of the country is living well below the poverty line (less than US$1 per day). That is why we have really appreciated and welcomed the new elected President and his visions for the on-going transformational country project he has been implementing. I am sure that the international aid and direct foreign investment being garnered by the government will help grow our economy, help lower the number of families living below the poverty line and boost industry revenues including the telecommunications sector. However, that said, the demand for our products has risen among the population and we are constantly looking for ways to bring the prices of our handsets and tariffs down so that more people can become connected and less isolated in Madagascar.
What would you say is your stand out feature as a telecommunications company?
(MB): We are a customer-focused company. No matter what we have done in the past, what we are doing now and what we will be doing tomorrow, customer satisfaction will remain at the centre of our business. We already have the fundamentals for great customer service in place here at Airtel Madagascar: the largest countrywide coverage, superior network quality, well-trained and engaged employees and a varied portfolio of products and services. Off the back of a great customer service is our ability to capitalise on growing market trends. Considering that mobile data usage has become a growing trend worldwide, we see the need to accelerate our current deployment of a 3G network countrywide with the aim to jump to 4G very soon.
How would you sum up the current state of the industry?
(MB): There are three main reasons to believe that the telecommunications industry in Madagascar is changing for the better. Firstly, we have a new found political and governmental stability, which will provide a clear and fair telecommunications operating framework and regulatory rules backed by officials in the government. Secondly, with this new framework in place, we can work towards giving 65% of the population who do not have access to any form of telecommunication a chance to gain access to mobile networks and handsets. Thirdly, we are operating in an underdeveloped country where there are a significant number of planned activities in mining, agriculture, tourism and infrastructure developments. We are looking at ways to help these projects by offering them a network and operator that will give them nationwide communication capabilities and a platform to do business on.
Tell me about the recent trends you’ve witnessed and how you intend to capitalise on them
(MB): While voice revenue on the networks is growing slowly, data consumption and demand for faster speeds have grown considerably over the last three quarters of 2014. Data and social media-related networking is the future of the telecoms business, not only here in Madagascar but across the whole of Africa. Data revenue is expected to contribute up to 50% of our growth over the next two years. Our goal is to be the widest reaching, fastest, smartest network for all of a customer’s data needs. This ambition will be reached through our dedicated project called Project Destiny that will change the organisation into a data driven company over the next 18 months through widespread transformation of all our functions and operations.
Tell me about your partners and vendors
(MB): For the last four years, Airtel has been embarking on an outsourcing model. Our network is managed by NSN (Nokia Solutions and Networks) and our IT is looked after by the globally recognised IBM. Having our networks looked after by such world-class companies has allowed us to focus on our customers and the Madagascan market. As well as working with NSN and IBM, we also work closely with local partners and companies, who play a key role in our site and tower construction, maintenance and other important day to day functions.
How important are CSR projects to Airtel Madagascar?
(MB): We do not want to be like an island of prosperity in the middle of poverty. That is why we are undertaking giving back to the community through our ever present CSR programs, which highlight and work on current issues including education, health care, youth issues and ICT in the community. For the last six months, we have been working very closely with social health on a large scale through our mobile clinic camp. The clinic looks after around 20,000 people across the country, offering advice and screening on current disease and health issues.
Finally, what would you say is Airtel Madagascar’s secret?
(MB): Having a brand that is trusted and recommended by its customers is important, and in Airtel, you have a brand loved throughout the continent with a service that is second to none in sub-Saharan Africa. The reason for our success can be put down to offering a service that is centred on customer needs. Having a reliable network, a good product and above all else, a customer service team that listens to feedback from customers, have all played key roles in the progress we are making Madagascar.