Africa > West Africa > Ghana > Data services is very important for Airtel

Ghana: Data services is very important for Airtel


You can’t deny the fact that Mr Philip Sowah is a thorough bred in his field. The amiable Managing Director of Airtel Ghana Ltd is a definite goal getter. His track records show so easily. Prior to joining Airtel Ghana, Sowah was the Chief Officer of Onetouch (presently Vodafone Ghana) where he championed its aggressive expansion from 160,000 to 1.3 million subscribers.

He was as well responsible for setting up Deloitte’s IT consulting practices and Procter and Gamble’s IT operations In Ghana, Nigeria, Cameroun, Cote d’Ivoire and other parts of sub-Saharan Africa respectively, growing the former (Deloitte’s to a firm of over 60 consultants in the West African region.

The man who has additional than 20 years Senior Management experience in telecommunications, data technology and management consulting with Large 5 and Fortune 500 companies has worked with Becton Dickinson as the Program Director on a world electronic procurement initiative and was a consultant with IBM World Services all in the USA. He as well has extensive international consulting experience in Africa, Europe and the Middle East.

He is currently the Chairman of the Governing Council of the Ghana Chamber of Communications, the major telecoms industry association and a private initiative by the mobile telecom operators in Ghana.
In this exclusive chat with AKIN NAPHTAL, Sowah shares his thoughts on the industry and Airtel’s commitment to attaining the number one spot. Excerpts…

Airtel subscribers have increased over time and it seems you are enjoying good patronage. What are the key factors for your success?

Key factors of our success have been completely a few things; our quality of services has been very large as well our customer services have been very good. At the same time as our customers need help they have found help to be very easy. Our data services has been very very strong, those together has led to our success so far.

Consumers are hungry for fast and high capacity broadband, what is the national of your data service?

I would like to say we have the fastest data service available in the country right presently in terms of mobile broadband, but there is still room for development. We have upgraded most of our 3G base stations to 21mb per second which is the fastest available right presently and we are looking to do even additional by increasing the speed with access to fibre optic cables.
Despite huge Telecom investment in Ghana, subscribers still complain of poor network services, does it mean this issue can’t be fixed or it is beyond your control?

No it doesn’t, I think our customers do enjoy a good network, but there is always room for development. We appreciate the feedback we receive from our customers as this spurs us on to do better. At the same time as you look at the service and compare us to others in the industry, we are not doing badly; of course we can always do better as our customers expect additional from us so we are working to make sure we satisfy them.

How socially responsible is Airtel Ghana?

Airtel Ghana is extremely socially responsible; we spent completely a bit of money over the years in different aspects of Ghanaian life to make it better. We can start off with one of our flagship projects Touching Lives; it is a television reality show where we do help and encourage people who are by presently doing good things in their neighbourhood to do even better. One of the things I am really proud of is our collaboration with University of Cape Coast School of Medical Sciences where we built a clinical teaching facility for them. Until again, medical students would have had to move to any of the teaching hospitals in Accra, Kumasi or Tamale to finish their degree because of the absence of the teaching hospital environment. This laudable idea for support was indeed requested by His Excellency the late Prof Atta Mills president of Ghana at the same time as he met with Mr. Manoj Kohli, CEO Bharti Airtel Ltd. The rest as they say is history and today we have this facility right next to the Cape Coast central hospital where the medical students can presently undertake their lectures and clinical practical’s. Recently I was in Cape Coast with the president His Excellency John Mahama where the initial graduating class of 42 students from the medical school received their degrees. They will be posted across the country next their housemanship to address the unmet need of the various communities. With these I am very proud of.

The recent NCA statistics on MNP shows over 800,000 has ported, what is your view on this and can we say it has been a successful project?

Mobile Number Portability (MNP) has been extremely successful depending on what you are using as a yardstick to measure. What we like to measure is the speed of porting, which is one of the fastest anywhere in the world not just in Africa. What that does is gives customers authentic flexibility to say: “look I am not happy with my service provider, I want to switch”. People thought that with the onset of MNP, there would be mass movement of people porting their numbers at a go which did not happen. The key thing for us as a business is at the same time as we go to the enterprise space, and a company wants to port their lines to our service, we are able to do so without them losing the number to each line. This gives us flexibility.

What is your opinion on the talk tax levied by the government?

We have discussed this and do understand the rationale behind this from the government point of view. We however, feel they would have approaching up with other ways of raising tax revenue to government, and to give the industry a little additional flexibility on how we run our business. There is definitely additional need for dialogue on how the tax should be structured and collected.

What is your current assessment of Ghana telecoms industry?

Ghana telecom industry is extremely vibrant. I like to think that it is the majority competitive in Africa, in that; all the major operators are here all competing very aggressively. Actually somebody asked me; “don’t you think we have too a lot of operators”? and I said yes, we have too a lot of but at the same time as I look at all the ‘large boys’ around, who is going to leave the market? That said it is a very healthy competition. Customers are getting the benefit of that. Our rates are some of the lowest in the continent for voice and data speed is better compared to where we started from a few years ago.

What are the current challenges and how are you managing them?

The challenges we have running the business right presently is things like power; we spent so much money on electricity and diesel generators. I have a senior manager whose only job is to help us manage our use of energy because it plays a huge factor on my P and L. We are hoping that there will be development in the energy sector from the government which would have a great significance on our bottom line.
Have you imagined that one day Airtel will be number 1 in subscriber’s acquisition in Ghana?

I definitely have and it is not that far-fetched. We do have a plan which is not an easy plan by any structure or imagination but we clearly have a step wise plan. It would be interesting to talk to you a year from presently because you will see us much differently and again we could evaluate our evolution so far on this journey of becoming number 1.

You have won a lot of awards this year how does it spur you on?
It spurs us on in that the team is working hard and at the same time as we get these awards it tells us that we are doing the right things and that consumers are recognising us for it. Some of our most recent awards include Telecoms Company of the Year 2012 awarded by the Chartered Institute of Marketing Ghana (CIMG); Best Customer Care and Best Mobile Broadband Service of the Year awarded at the 3rd Ghana Telecoms Awards 2013 organized by the Mobile World magazine and Public Relations Campaign of the Year and Best Community Relations Programme of the Year handed to Airtel at the 1st Public Relations Excellence Awards organized by the Institute of Public Relations Ghana.

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