Looking at Etisalat through a different lens
As the fifth entrant into the GSM space in the Nigeria, Etisalat Nigeria came in to meet a market where the odds were stacked heavily against it, paying $400 million to acquire the Unified Access License (UAL), which offers it a mobile license and spectrum in the GSM 1800 and 900 Mega Hertz (MHz).
The risk of a late entrant into a market involves doing everything else at twice the cost. The network offered… license at inception and Nigerians received it enthusiastically. In less than six years, it has secured… subscribers. The need to expand its network became acute to ensure that high service quality was delivered to the customers.
The board and management of the company deployed technology and money in a huge attempt to catch up and maintain a comfortable presence in the industry, at a time margins had dropped and competition had become stiff.
It entered the market with the groundbreaking “0809uchoose” campaign. For the very first time, Nigerian mobile phone customers had to choose numbers special to them to create their own phone number.
The company has also received many awards for dedication to quality and innovation. Barely six months into operations in Nigeria, the Nigerian communications commission (NCC) pronounced Etisalat Nigeria’s best network based on quality of service indices. In November 2012, Etisalat again received another award from the NCC for excellent customer service. Other accolades include: brand of the year, fastest growing GSM Company of the year, best marketing company, most innovative corporate social responsibility company, friendliest tariff mobile operator, best telecoms customer service and most innovative mobile operator, among others.
In 2013, the Etisalat Prize for Literature was created and is the first ever pan-African prize celebrating first-time African writers of published fiction books. Awarded annually, the prize aims to serve as a platform for the discovery of new creative talent out of the continent and invariably promote the burgeoning publishing industry in Africa. The winner receives a cash prize of £15,000 in addition to a fellowship at the University of East Anglia.
The mobile telephony provider appears to have a soft spot for the Art industry as evident from its sponsorship of Art festivals, competitions and art related talent hunt show across the nation.
They have partnered the African Artists’ Foundation (AAF), Lagos photo exhibition to promote Nigeria’s rich cultural heritage through the power of photography. They extended the sponsorship to the Amateur photographic competition which afforded the wider population including children an opportunity to use their cameras and phones to record images of large and vibrant country. Also, they have sponsored talent hunt TV show running on television stations called, Nigerian Idols.
While the company is currently facing challenges, there is no doubt that its board and management have delivered good result in terms of network technology and ingraining the brand through various projects that have touched lives.
If we agree that a combination of foreign exchange difficulties and economic recession has hit hard on the industry really hard, then we should look at the current challenges the company is facing through a different lens.
Nigeria’s economy contracted by -1.5 percent in 2016 as slipped into a crippling recession that saw inflation figures rise double digits to 18 percent and commodity prices were hiked to over 50 percent. Telecommunication equipment and invisibles for instance were excluded from the Retail Dutch Auction System in the last quarter 2016 forcing them to scramble to purchase foreign exchange at rates almost twice the market rate. This hindered the ease of doing business in the sector.
The telecommunications sector is highly capital intensive, and investors crave an environment, which affords them the opportunity to secure reasonable returns in order to drive further investment. From the standpoint of securing much needed foreign investment and protecting Nigerian shareholders in the company, this calls for deeper regulatory intervention.
A high ratio of forex is required as most transactions are forex denominated including payments to equipment suppliers and foreign vendors for services that are not available locally. This has hindered the ease of doing business and materially driven up operational costs. The CBN can do more to support the industry by quickly opening up the FX window to include the telecom sector, equipment and invisibles such that operators too, not just the few earlier mentioned sectors have access to the 60% FX available from banks for allocation.
For the Nigerian economy, clearly a viable resolution is one that keeps the company in business, resolves all the issues and the company repays the loans to creditors.
Nigeria has over 83 million unique subscribers, accounting for 45 per cent of the population. Telecoms industry has far reaching impact on the economy driving the financial services, education and healthcare. The market is still viable so Government and regulators need to intervene to ensure the survival of Etisalat.
• Nwandu, a social commentator and analyst, writes from Abuja