TN Mobile battles for relevance

By Kelvin Chiringa
July 2016
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Telecom Namibia (TN), which has been operating as a pale shadow of their competitor MTC in terms of market penetration, will roll out an ambitious network expansion coverage its Chief Mobile Officer, Perny Armando has revealed.
Ironically this comes at a time when the company is facing a turbulent financial period inflicted by a botched investment in Mundo Startel of Angola ten years ago.
 “A network expansion capital budget will be presented to the TN board soon for the expansion of the network for adequate coverage. We will communicate the final amounts once the 3-5 year expansion plan is approved,” says Perny, adding that, “The penetration in the country will be enhanced by deploying additional base stations in areas where we have clusters of people living and the availability of grid power. We will also endeavor to backhaul some of our remote infrastructure via our satellite network that cover all of Namibia, together with limited solar installations as backup power this strategy will allow us to take services to non-urban Namibians,”
The information communication technology service provider looks forward to harnessing the power of solar energy for back up  in order to more easily  grace  the thresh-holds of  non-electrified remote areas.

As the current number of TN’s subscribers officially stand at 130 000, a considerable rise from 2014’s mere 75 000, Armando is positive embarking on this costly project is both feasible and paramount.

“Providing connectivity to all Namibians is of cardinal importance in this time and age, it also remains part of our long term strategy to provide connectivity to as many Namibians as possible. This will be achieved over a medium to long term period, which includes leveraging on the existing infrastructure of our partners in the ICT sector.”

“There is still a huge portion of the populations that is not connected to the information highway and being part of the sector, we believe that by providing access to customer will make use of the service,” he says

He exclusively revealed to this publication that while the company was poised on funding this initiative from its sources of capital, they are still open to any sources of funding.

“Telecom Namibia will fund these projects through its capital projects programme, which targets certain expansions over a period of time. Any additional capital injection will definitely fast track the deployment to reach our business goals. We are also looking at feasible alternative technologies to achieve our expansion goals,” says Armando.

The Chief Mobile Officer, however, decried the unavailability of adequate funds, hindrances of uneven geographical terrain and expensive mobile devices for the end users as the current challenges bedeviling the entire project.

“Availability of adequate funds would be the main challenge. However, there are other circumstantial factors like grid power, geographical terrain, and socio-economic situation of end user which has an impact on the affordability of devices to connect to the internet, and lately the deterioration of the exchange rate which is affecting the procurement of equipement. “

“Our growth is also hampered by the lack of number portability in a mature mobile market as customers want to experience a different service operator but cannot part with their number, but soon the regulatory environment will change and allow the customer to move across service providers while retaining their mobile numbers,” reveals Armando.

With MTC having been the main player in the industry since inception, Armando disclosed to Prime Focus that TN Mobile had strategies put in place that would tally with global, regional and national trends.
He, however, pointed out that the company was still a new baby which had entered the scene later after the inception of its major rival.

“This is a numbers game and since we are competing with an entity that has been in the market for over 20 years, we believe that out tactical plans will allow us to stay focused on improving our offerings and also differentiate our offerings in a manner that the market will find as adding value. “

“Our strategy is modelled around our strengths which is the data space, we aligned them to global, regional and national trends that create opportunities for us in the market.”

“Customer service and network quality are two other focal areas for us to remain relevant in this competitive environment. It goes without saying that we need to leverage on innovation to add value to our offerings and establish strategic partnerships to advance our business model,” he reveals.

As of late TN mobile has been failing to stand the ground and sustain competition by expanding its mobile network penetration due to a multiplicity of factors bordering on the huge capital investment associated with network expansions while the availability of grid power and the process to establish base station sites were other inhibiting factors.

Meanwhile TN’s medium to short term objectives hover around the deployment of adequate base stations in remote areas to allow for the coverage of radiuses of up to 30km.

“The deployment of a significant amount of base stations with voice and internet capability will allow TN mobile to cover radiuses of up to 30 kilometers depending on the geographical terrain. We will also deploy base stations in remote areas by leveraging on solar installations where grid power is not available.”
 
“Our satellite footprint over the entire Namibia will allow us to move into areas where pockets of the populations are living and or where Government want to provide service to the communities,” he says.

These plans will be informed by statistical information coming from the Namibia Statistics Agency to allow the company to align to its deployment plans.
Queried on the future of landlines in a market that has seen a rapid influx of smart phones and related mobile communication gadgets, Armando adamantly believes the old devices of communication were going nowhere.
“Landlines will always be the preferred method of communication, smartphones are dependent of wireless network, which are dependent on available spectrum or frequencies to ensure communications between the smartphones and the service providers.

He also believes that with the spectrum costs still high cellular phones had limitations in terms of the amount of information that can be sent though for a cluster of customers.

“Fixed lines on the other side will be here for many more years and the copper will be replaced by fibre to the home or business environment and ensure high speed connectivity,” says Armando.