Spreading out: Telenor Pakistan to diversify from telecom business

Company exec says a range of other related services on the cards.

Maha Mussadaq February 19, 2013
We are here to grab the top slot, to be number one, says Erik.


The Express Tribune recently sat down with Rolv-Erik Spilling, the executive vice-president of the Telenor Group, who talked about the Norwegian telecom giant’s expansion plans in the country and its growth trajectory for the years ahead.

How do you see Pakistan as a market?

Pakistan today has 30 million customers and is a huge part of the Telenor group. When we think about investing into new services, we think about coming up with local flavours. If we can connect our customers with affordable handsets and relevant local services, we will be in a good position to increase our market share. Revenues will follow.

What does Telenor’s Digital Services unit do?

“Digital Services” is basically a global unit investing in five areas. Financial services, machine-to-machine services, business software services, consumer-oriented content services and ecommerce services. What we are trying to do is invest in positions other than communication services. We do not have high internet penetration in Pakistan, but it will come; and we have a good opportunity to invest in relevant services beforehand. This is a global initiative, and we are looking at all countries that we are in.

Is there something new Telenor Pakistan will offer?

The smartphone has penetrated the more mature world and prices of other handsets have gone down. As an operator, we can make such handsets ourselves, or partner with others, so that they become attractive and affordable. That will increase internet usage and increase usage of our services on such phones. Of course, the user interface should enable a person to understand these services; that is important.

We hope to provide an ecosystem in which one can get a smartphone, obtain a loan to buy that smartphone, have it insured, and be able to consume relevant local music or content and make payments for it through banking solutions.

What new trends in mobile banking have yet to launch in Pakistan?

Extending loan products is one unexplored area. You can also have savings products and more targeted insurance products. I think these three areas need to be looked into, so that these portfolios become more relevant to customers and much more complete. Are we capable of doing that? That depends on regulatory authorities; but I say we would be able to, because the value proposition for the customer is huge.

How does Easypaisa plan to sustain its position in the face of competition?

With more players entering the business, there is more focus on the business – which is good. As a branch, we can stay together and speak to authorities to be able to actually move quicker than we do today. We will invest more into customer services and customer portfolios, so that you will be able to use more services; but more than that, be able to use then more easily.

What are your thoughts on mobile internet usage in Pakistan?

To be honest, mobile internet penetration is very low in this country. It will increase eventually, but we would like for it to increase faster. To be able to do that, we need the right frequencies, we need affordable handsets, and we need local content which is relevant for different sectors. We are running initiatives in all these areas, and we feel that the Telenor group has the power to bring prices lower to be able to compete in the Pakistani market.

What are Telenor Pakistan’s ambitions?

We are here to grab the top slot, to be number one. But we are also focusing on the financial sector. There are different yardsticks when you look at who is number one: right now, people look at the total number of subscribers. At times, that is not the yardstick employed by the organisation itself. Right now, we are looking at value-added services which will make current subscribers more loyal and increase their usage of services.

Any thoughts on the 3G auction?

We are definitely going to be a part of that auction going forward. It is important to get the right spectrum so that we can deliver good enough services.

What are your expansion plans?

We will invest in more services, that is for sure. That is why Digital Services is here. And I guess you can say that investing into a new spectrum is moving towards expansion. We are also modernising our network right now.

Most importantly for the Pakistani scenario, we are working to be more energy efficient because of the energy crisis affecting the country. It is therefore important to move towards technology which consumes less energy and is greener and more environment-friendly.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 20th, 2013.

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