Blu to be a Consumer Advocate

One of Ghana’s 4G LTE licensees, Blu Telecoms, is gearing up to start operations later this year, and the company says it would use an unusual consumer advocacy strategy to penetrate a market where most players are not trusted by consumers.

Chief Commercial Officer of Blu Telecoms, Tara Squire told Adom Business, “We are fully aware that in this market the consumers do not trust the telcos and so our strategy would be to combine our commercial business with consumer advocacy and maintain customers’ trust.”

Blu Telecoms (former G-Kwiknet), was one of three Ghanaian companies given Broadband Wireless Access (BWA) licenses in June 2013 at the cost of US$6million each, to start 4G LTE or WiMax services in Ghana. The other two are Surfline Telecoms and Goldkey Telecoms.

All have 18 months, ending November 2014, to launch or face sanctions. The license limits them to providing data services for starters, and to cover 50% of all districts in the country in fives, after which they can provide voice services and compete with the six others already in the voice space.

So in essence there are nine telecom operators in Ghana now, except that three 4G LTE licensees are limited to only data services for now.

Out of the three, only Surfline has announced it would launch first quarter of this year. The other two have been on the quiet since they got the license.

But the Blu Telecom CCO said the company is fast gearing up to the launch later this year, and it is sure when it launches, it will be the telecom operator of choice in the data space because its strategy would make it an advocate of the consumer rather than a company here to “milk” consumers.

“We know what consumers pay for data on the 3G networks currently and we plan on keeping our tariffs at that level even though we will be giving them way better customer experience and faster internet speeds,” he said.

Preparations

Squire said beyond paying US$6million for the license, the company is spending tens of millions of dollars on the basic components of a telco, being a data centre, billing system and distribution network (masts).

He said: “We are almost done with the data centre with Huawei as the network partner – we’ve just signed on a company called Alepo as a billing partners and we have together started building the billing system; and we have already built the first few towers in parts of Accra. There are a few things on the content side that are not crystallized yet, but once they are we will get partners for those also.”

The Blu Telecom CCO said because the plan is to be a consumer advocate and provide the consumer with the best of experience, the company intends to rollout in phases and to own every zone/location it enters into as it goes along.

“We are therefore working with various mast vendors within the various zones to ensure our customers within every location get the best experience possible,” Squire added.

Blu Telecoms is currently testing its SIM cards and how the various network components interact with each other. But that is all being done internally; nothing has been externalized yet.

But Squire is confident that the company is building a very reliable network to back its consumer advocacy strategy, which will be hinged on providing great customer experience.

He believes Blu also has the best team of professionals in the industry to deliver on the promise of great customer experience.

All three 4G LTE players would have numbers beginning with 025, and the difference in their numbers would begin with the fourth number.

Opportunities

Squire noted that Ghanaian telecoms market is a very competitive one, but much of the competition is in the voice space, while there exists a big opportunity in the data space.

Internet penetration is estimated at about 20% in Ghana and the telecom operators’ subscriber base figures show only 35% of phone users do data and the numbers keep dwindling.

This, Squire believes presents a big opportunity for LTE players like Blu, but he was quick to point out that the Ghanaian market is not going to be a walk over for Blu or for any of the other LTE players for that matter.

“Internet drive in this country is not going to be easy and we believe providing 4G LTE will not necessarily make any difference without showing people what to do with the internet. That is why our strategy is to get close to the customers, educate them and also be their advocate,” he said.

Doubts about devices

Pundits have said Ghana is not ready for 4G LTE because there is only about one per cent of 4G LTE device penetration in Ghana.

But Squire argued that those who think LTE has come to Ghana too early, are focusing on mobile voice penetration, but Blu would focus on providing reliable internet service on modems, Mi-Fi and other channels rather than pushing customers to go acquire 4G LTE handsets and tablets.

“We have also talked with Huawei about devices with which we deliver service to customers when the time comes,” he said.

He noted that Blu noticed that Ghanaians have not had the opportunity to experience the full spectrum of services on the internet because of the level of speeds and relatively high cost of accessing the internet, adding that Blu intend to empower Ghanaians to do more shopping, watch video and TV online at very affordable rates.

Even though all the LTE players have the opportunity to do voice in the next five years, Squire said voice is not on the table for Blu Telecom any time soon, adding that even if the company decides to do voice sometime in the future, it would be to provide more value to customer and not just to get more customers.

He however assured prospective customers that even though the company is beginning with data service, its SIM cards would be ‘voice ready’ for activation when it becomes necessary.

Blu Telecoms is wholly owned and wholly management by Ghanaians. It is owned by Joseph K. Horgle and the the management comprise of Emmanuel Collison – CEO, Tara Squire  – CCO, Samson Narteh-Yeo – Chief Finance Officer, Ekow Thompson –Chief Technical Officer, and Prosper Harrison Addo – Head of Legal & Corporate Affairs

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