Wed, 26/08/2015 - 13:25
Current Issue 80
Airtel believes there is a bright future ahead for telecoms in Madagascar and is working hard to take the much-loved brand to the next level through strategic investment in the network
Customers for Life
Writer: Emily Jarvis
Project Manager: Donovan Smith
Airtel Madagascar has been one of the key beneficiaries of the Airtel Group’s 2014 continent-wide investment programme to contribute more than US$1 billion dollars into Africa’s network infrastructure. As a result of a concerted focus to boost Airtel’s brand presence in the country, along with investments to bring improved 2G and 3G services to the market - with 4G in the future pipeline - the Madagascan arm began to gain subscribers and obtain the leading telco position in a bid to win “customers for life”; achieving profitability for the first time in the financial year 2015/2016.
“Madagascar is a country where teledensity, a measurement of how many phones are available per capita, stands at 35 percent. When compared to the African average of 55-60 percent, this figure is among the lowest on the continent and so part of our long-term vision is to raise this number and continue to gain more customers for life as per our Company goals,” affirms Maixent Bekangba, Managing Director (MD) of Airtel Madagascar.
Having been Managing Director for almost two years, Bekangba continues to work hard and improve the most loved brand in the country through the extension of the Airtel Group’s SMART network, skilled employees, innovative value-add products and community-orientated presence.
“Everything we do is centred around our slogan, Madagascar my Country, Airtel my Network. And in line with this, we are now working on increasing access to telecommunications services, specifically through addressing the voice demand with different packages for different target demographics and increasing the number of 2G and 3G sites for our two main market segments: the mass market and business enterprise.
“Our continuous improvement strategy has resulted in Airtel Madagascar maintaining the number one position in the country for both CMS (customer market share) and RMS (revenue market share), despite the challenging and competitive environment in which we operate,” he adds.
Access to tech
When we interviewed Mr Bekangba in 2014, it became apparent that the development of Madagascar’s telecoms industry was very much dependent on achieving better political and economic stability. Having made great strides in establishing a clear and fair telecommunications framework and regulatory rules, Airtel Madagascar has been able to leverage the new government framework to increase telecommunications access from 35 percent to 60 percent, with the help of both Group investment and local vendor relationships.
“This new framework means that we can work towards our goal of giving 65 percent of the population the chance to access to our mobile network and services. This includes business enterprise customers who would benefit from our service to give them nationwide communication capabilities and enhance the mobile platform to encourage more efficient business.
“We need to show the public that we have an understanding of the developing market here, so by providing a number of affordable services to those in the mining, agriculture, tourism and construction markets as well as the general market, we equip people with the right tools so they can be more efficient in managing their business finances and relationships,” explains Bekangba.
This customer focus is filtered throughout the population, and Airtel Madagascar even has an education programme to show the community the possibilities that a mobile and accompanying affordable services can bring to their lives.
A significant part of Airtel Madagascar’s investment has been injected into the improvement of its data service offering. By renewing any equipment that is coming to the end of its life, Airtel Madagascar is reducing the cost of data for its customers with a view to achieve a long-term return.
“Data is becoming more crucial for businesses and in recognising this fact, we are close to having one 2G site for every 3G site and are working towards 4G deployment as well. The cost of improvements to our data service is more than voice and text as we already have sub-marine fibre cable infrastructure in the country to support this,” comments Bekangba.
Although there is clear demand for data services, free web services from Facebook’s internet.org are presenting challenges in the Madagascan market as Bekangba highlights: “Given the country’s immature market, internet.org is potentially damaging to the early growth of data and the speed at which we can finance further network investments in order to improve our service offering for customers.”
Despite this issue, Airtel Madagascar has been able to bring the Group’s industry-leading financial inclusion product, Airtel Money, to the local customers. “In addition to the basic airtime and top-up features, customers can use Airtel Money in Madagascar to complete money transfers, to which we are about to add the facility for international transfers,” he says.
“Moreover, our cross-border vision dubbed ‘One Network’ ensures that our services are available in neighbouring countries at almost no extra cost for the customer.”
By leveraging the core skills from Airtel Group and its position as the third largest telco in the word, Airtel Madagascar has been fortunate enough to take part in international skills transfer programmes in order to improve skills capacities throughout the value chain. The Group’s Mobility Programme promotes cross-border skills development to bring the latest thought-leading innovations to Madagascar
“Our programmes start from root level upwards in order to place as many local people as possible within our business. For example, we employ those who live in the surrounding areas as local shop managers and train them in Airtel best practices, and this is really helping us to stand out from the country’s competitors in terms of our local presence. Ultimately, all those employed by us become part of the Airtel family and are treated as such,” Bekangba explains.
Likewise, a considerable amount of time and effort has gone into securing the best partners available for the network improvements through a unique outsourcing model that has been honed over the past five years.
He emphasises: “Our network is being managed by NSN (Nokia Solutions and Networks) and our IT is looked after by the multinational giant, IBM. Supplementing these world-class names are a whole host of local companies who play crucial roles in our site and tower construction, maintenance and other day-to-day duties; and above all they have a deep understanding of the local market and Madagascan culture,” Bekangba says.
Another way in which Airtel Madagascar immerses itself into the country’s business and social scenes is through corporate social responsibility (CSR) programmes; most commonly across the ICT, education, health and sport sectors, with a particular focus on youth.
“Through the campaign named ‘It’s Now’, Airtel is helping to educate and support the youth in Africa to achieve great things and reach their goals. Programmes like this are supported by our Ambassadors and one such example is African footballer, Yaya Toure, a player from Manchester City who has been appointed as an Airtel Ambassador,” he adds.
“Ultimately, we do not want to be an island of prosperity in the middle of poverty,” Bekangba continues. “That is why our focus on CSR remains vital to our daily operations not just in Madagascar but throughout the Airtel Group. Some examples include our partnership with the Ministry of Health for the provision of medicines to the public, donations for flood victims and the provision of computers in schools to better prepare the youth of today for work.”
In spite of a challenging socio-economic environment, Bekangba says that it is important for customers to trust in Airtel and recognise that the brand that is in it for the long-term. He concludes: “We will continue to invest with the definitive aim of creating affordable telecoms packages as we recognise that technology plays an important part in shaping the future of the economy and connecting Madagascar to the world; and there is ample opportunity to make this a reality.
“Above all, Airtel Madagascar’s vision is to help the people here, not just by investing in a solid network infrastructure, but through our corporate social investment activities that build trust in our brand.”