CAIRO: Vodafone Egypt’s outgoing CEO Richard Daly said the future for mobile telecom operators lies in providing subscribers with the increasingly popular mobile internet.
As he prepares to leave his current post later this month, Daly will head back to the UK to take over as CEO of Vodafone Global Partner Markets.
Looking back on an eventful tenure, Daly sat down with Daily News Egypt to discuss his accomplishments, his assessment of the dynamic local telecom industry and his outlook for its future.
As the three competing mobile telecom providers have a solid grasp on the market for voice services, Daly finds himself fully focused on winning over the mobile internet market, which he describes as the current “wave in the telecom industry.
“If you go back to what’s happened in the developed markets, he said, “kind of internet explosion and mobile explosion kind of happened pretty much synchronized.. Slightly different in the emerging markets, where the mobile explosion has happened, and now you have the wave of internet data coming in behind it.
Daly has been one of the few in Egypt responsible for making mobile internet mainstream, now boasting 2.5 million out of its 20 million overall customers using the mobile internet.
Internet on the go
Daly explained that to set itself up for success in the race to win mobile internet customers, Vodafone must have a strong network, affordable handsets, and engaging web content.
Of the three, Daly argued that there is still work to do on the handsets but that prices are rapidly declining.
“Anywhere that you get the infrastructure and the ecosystem coming together, i.e. you can provide the right supply, the demand is proven, Daly said.
“So for us in 2006-2007, it was really a question of how does Vodafone play a leadership role in the internet space, given that we fully recognize that the mobile voice market is going to reach saturation at some point in the next three to five years, he explained.
One of Vodafone’s keys to success in the mobile internet market was its enthusiastic purchase of a 3G license in 2008. He saw the move towards mobile internet as a major wave that was only beginning. Investing in 3G, he therefore concluded, was only natural.
Vodafone also acquired Sarcom last summer, bringing into the fold a company that has been able to provide new and compelling web content for Vodafone customers.
Though mobile internet has yet to penetrate much of the lower income populations, Daly expressed confidence that it will follow, to some degree, mobile use for calling purposes, which has continued to penetrate deeper into the socioeconomic ranks of the Egyptian population.
Daly said that mobile internet has a far stronger future in Egypt than fixed line internet “just because putting fixed infrastructure into the rural parts of Egypt is very difficult, very expensive, whereas for us, building on our existing mobile network, which already have 99.9 percent in population coverage, is actually relatively cost-effective.
With the aim of winning business at the lower income levels, Vodafone offers a plan in which, for LE 1 per day, users get 3MB of web access. The competitive rates, Daly believes, means that mobile internet can reach 100 percent of Vodafone’s customers.
Following behind the mobile internet trend, Daly sees yet another wave waiting to take shape.
Of the internet services Vodafone provides, much of it is used in mobile handsets. Vodafone’s other product, mobile internet through a laptop, has yet to achieve great volume mostly, Daly said, because the cost of laptops remains out of reach for most Egyptians.
As newer, less expensive laptops enter the market, though, Daly expects deeper market penetration for those mobile internet products too.
At base, much of Vodafone’s business still revolves around the mobile voice services, and Daly took a moment to look back on developments in the mobile voice arena over the past couple of years.
“It’s slightly exaggerated to say that in the voice market, the arrival of a third entrant in Egypt really dramatically changed everything, he said, discussing the launch of Etisalat Egypt in 2007.
Competition between Vodafone and Mobinil before the arrival of Etisalat, he noted, is primarily responsible for the low rates for phone calls. Three mobile operators for 80 million people, Daly said, felt about right.
Daly takes a nostalgic tone as he prepares to leave Egypt, discussing how much he’s going to miss the culture of the 6,000 member strong Vodafone Egypt team.
“You talk to people in Vodafone Egypt, he said, “they’ll tell you it’s a unique place to work. It’s 6,000 people but it feels still like an entrepreneurial small business. The people get on really well. They feel like a big family. It’s a little bit unique in that respect.
As he heads back to the UK, he’ll be swapping jobs with Hatem Dowidar, an Egyptian, who is set to take over Vodafone Egypt soon. Daly expressed his delight that an Egyptian would finally be taking over the company.
“Having a local person running such a massive consumer business, he said, “is really important to go and keep really close to the customer, to the culture. It’s always been our ambition to put an Egyptian back in charge.
Daly has a tendency to sound like more of a sociologist than a telecom executive. He is fond of using the term “ecosystem in reference to the environment in which his business operates. If the “ecosystem represents the evolving world of technology, Daly sees himself as an enabler of that evolution.
And in his tenure as Vodafone Egypt chief Daly has helped shepherd the waves – another favorite word of his – of technology through the ecosystem, pushing to make them accessible to all Egyptians.