About the CEO - Michael Patrick Foley was appointed as the Chief Executive Officer of Grameenphone effective from 26 May 2017. Before joining the company, he was the CEO of Telenor Bulgaria. A Canadian by birth, he joined Telenor in 2014 as the CEO of Telenor Pakistan. He has more than thirty years of sales, marketing and operational experience in the telecom, retail and gaming sectors from both advanced and growth markets.
Speaking to M Prushothma Rao of The Fast Mode in a recent interview, Michael touches on the various on-going initiatives by Grameenphone, and sheds light on the challenges as well as the successes it is seeing in the mobile data market in Bangladesh, and elaborates on its strategies in the digital services space.
Data, data everywhere
M Prushothma Rao: Grameenphone’s 4G services are already up and running in cities such as Dhaka and Chattogram, and we expect more cities in the country to join in the race over the coming months. Can you share with us the excitement surrounding the launch of these services across these cities?
Michael Foley: We are already in most districts across the country and will cover all 64 districts by the end of July. What was a proud moment for us was we launched 4G in select areas of Dhaka and Chattogram within 90 seconds of receiving the license from the regulator – an unprecedented achievement for the Telenor Group. At the core of our rollout is uncompromising customer experience on our network.
The people of Bangladesh are very aspirational and have taken to data services very quickly; in fact, we crossed the 1 million 4G data subscriber mark within three months of launch. What’s more, data consumption growth on our modernized network has been very promising since we launched 4G.
M Prushothma Rao: While there has been a lot of talk on ramping up the 4G network for these launches, we noted that there had also been aggressive rollouts of 2G and 3G Radio Access Networks (RAN) by Grameenphone last year and the modernization of the Core Network during the same tenure. Can you elaborate more on Grameenphone’s strategic positioning in the market following the concurrent expansion of all three networks (2G, 3G and 4G), and how this will influence the growth of mobile data revenue and revenue from other mobile services?
Michael Foley: Grameenphone has more than 68 million subscribers on its network, 36 million of whom are data subscribers as well. While we would like to see the benefits of the internet and smart devices in the hands of more people, we have to understand that feature phone users represent the majority of our subscribers. Smartphones represent 31% of users in the market. This means that we need to ensure that all customers on our 2G, 3G and 4G network have the best experience on the GP network, which means concurrent expansion of all three networks.
The future is in the use of digitally - enabled services and the development of local content. This transformation is leading to a lifestyle change all over the world as well as in Bangladesh as well. Access to high speed internet and data services is already aiding youth entrepreneurs to seek out digital solutions to local and global problems from anywhere in Bangladesh. The internet is opening up revenue streams by breaking down geographic barriers within and without the country. Moreover the proliferation of e-governance services and business automation initiatives is creating a greater reliance on data services. The need to access the internet will help data services become a growth driver for the telecommunication industry.
It must be said that unfortunately tax policies on smartphones and smart devices are not conducive towards encouraging the adoption of technology. In the case of 4G services this is a particular challenge since there are still fewer device options in the market and even the base pricing for such devices are unnecessarily inflated as a result of the prevailing tax structure.
At the core, Grameenphone is all about connecting people with the things that matter most to them and we are actively working with the industry trade bodies and the government to address many such issues.
Expanding the Operator Apps Portfolio
M Prushothma Rao: Last August, Grameenphone launched GP Music and Bioscope, its OTT audio and TV service respectively, as part of its suite of Operator Apps offering. With a wide coverage of TV channels and on-demand content, these mark Grameenphone’s big entry into the OTT scene. How does this move complement Grameenphone’s existing mobile data business, and what can we expect in terms of new revenue streams?
Michael Foley: Bioscope which took the local market by a storm has made headway into international markets since its launch and is available as a subscription service for international users. The service seems strongly placed to be a leading digital Bengali content provider for 300 million strong Bengali speakers across the world. Similarly, GPMusic is growing in popularity and has been recognized as a legitimate music provider that balances IP rights with customer demands. The digital services that GP has developed and launched now also include two mobile games –Sketch Journey and Battle Rage – that have already caught the imagination of young users.
The industry transformation into a more digitalized platform is a global phenomenon. We face the same challenges in Bangladesh. Globally voice revenue is being overtaken by data revenue, and while we are not there yet in this market the transition is inevitable. Grameenphone is gearing itself to ensure that we are ready for that reality by creating a suite of localized data-driven services for our customers.
This plays right along with our strategic ambition to becoming the preferred digital partners for millions of users as well as a pathway to ensuring that growth in data revenue can somewhat offset possible drops in voice revenue in the years ahead.
M Prushothma Rao: Talking about Operators’ inroads into the Apps market, Grameenphone’s homegrown Apps such as WowBox, GPAY, My GP and TONIC also made their debut in the Bangladeshi market in the recent months. What’s your vision behind the introduction of this suite of Operator Apps, and what does this bode for customer engagement in the long run?
Michael Foley: Lifestyles are changing and more and more people want to complete their errands through the mobile phone. From buying data or choosing tariff rates on their mobile phone account to wanting to pay their utility bills seamlessly, the smart device is becoming the nucleus of all financial transactions. To bolster our existing digital service portfolio further, we are already exploring areas of seamless integration with IoT, health, education, transportation, commerce, governance and security.
While it is true that we have experienced fair headway with some of these services, it is also imperative that we continue to widen our service portfolio to cover our customers’ digital lifestyle needs. Integrating what people want to do and the services we can offer will define the future of the industry and how our customers act, interact and transact on our platform. To remain relevant, we need to fit into their lives through a customized suite of apps that make our customers’ lives easier and take us closer to being their preferred digital partner.
Revolutionizing Customer Service
M Prushothma Rao: End of last year, we saw the launch of your first Grameenphone Lounge, touted as a state-of-the-art digital retail shop, allowing customers the access to Grameenphone’s own Apps as well as a wide variety of mobile accessories and various IoT, VR and Smart Home digital products. How does the new retail experience impact the digital customer journey, and are there any plans for more Grameenphone Lounges?
Michael Foley: Grameenphone has always been a pioneer in introducing innovative products and services for its customers. The GP Lounge has provided our valued customers with the opportunity for hands-on experience with the company’s digital product portfolio, such as WowBox, GPAY, MyGP, GPMusic, Bioscope, and TONIC, among other services.
Additionally, customers can experience innovative futuristic digital products and gain their first immersive understanding of the Internet of Things (IoT), Smart Home and Virtual Reality entertainment and what the future holds. These lounges have already redefined the customer experience landscape in Bangladesh and we intend to expand this concept to selective cities over the next few years.
Internet of Everything
M Prushothma Rao: As the Internet of Things (IoT) sweeps across every industry segment, we saw that Grameenphone too has recently launched its own M2M Plan recently, which comes with its various Data Packs, industrial grade SIM cards and a self-service portal. Can you elaborate more on your target market for this new segment, and how might businesses in Bangladesh gain from close collaboration with telecom Operators on their IoT initiatives.
Michael Foley: Digitalization and connected devices are expected to play an ever-more prominent role in Bangladesh’s information economy. Introduction of M2M Suite is a part of our commitment to pave way for greater automation in the local economy.
In Bangladesh we are increasingly seeing digitalization without the corresponding smart connectivity – in the absence of two-way M2M communication these devices are performing at sub-optimal levels and are not fulfilling their true purpose. We aim to enable our M2M customers to administer their connected devices/businesses over the GP network through customized interfaces which contributes to improving efficiency by simplifying the complex structure and automatically managing the end to end communication.
Looking at the pace of digitalization in Bangladesh, we project the number of potential M2M connections in Bangladesh to nearly triple between now and 2020. Our M2M solutions will maximize efficiency when our customers will be managing their large array of devices and sensors.
Development of the Tech Ecosystem
M Prushothma Rao: According to Grameenphone, its GP Accelerator which empowers tech start-ups with the resources they need to build and grow has just opened the applications for the 5th batch of the program this month. How has the program helped in building tech ecosystems in Bangladesh and how has this contributed to Grameenphone’s own service innovations, brand presence and market growth?
Michael Foley: GP Accelerator has proven to be an innovation platform for Grameenphone. Critically the accelerator program provides a set of the most coveted assets to fledging startups right at the moment they need it the most. We are offering access to markets, contacts and opportunities. So far we have graduated four batches and the 5th batch is underway. It is encouraging to see that each new batch has performed better than the batch before it and are setting new standards for the ecosystem in terms of the capabilities, value proposition for their target groups and in terms of investment and/or scale potential.
We have seen massive success stories from these startups. On average, the financial value of the startups have increased four-fold in six months after graduating from the program. What’s more two of our alumni startups have already crossed the USD 5 million valuation mark!
The startups have not just benefited from the program, Grameenphone too has adopted their lean operation culture and created its own startup – Skitto, which is the first ever MVNO (Mobile Virtual Network Operator) platform in Bangladesh.
Additionally Telenor Group is promoting an intrapreneurship eco-system of its own and encouraging employees from all business units to explore their own ideas and build their dreams. Through the IGNITE program employees are provided a once in a lifetime opportunity to explore and build on their ideas over 4-months and pitch it to the company while on the payroll.