The real telecoms war

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Telecom, NCC, Etisalat, MTN, Airtel, Glo

 

“War: first, one hopes to win; then one expects the enemy to lose; then one is satisfied that he too is suffering; in the end, one is surprised that everyone has lost.” Karl Kraus, Die Fackel, October 19, 1917.

Merriam Webster defines war as a state of hostility, conflict or antagonism. It is a struggle or competition between opposing forces or for a particular end.

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Indeed, war, the conflicts of human interest and activities, is so pervasive today that it is fought in almost every sphere of human engagement. Yes, in politics, business, religion and other arena of human interaction, war is going on in various shades.

One thing is clear as mercenary soldier and philosopher, Xenophone noted, ‘if we have to fight a battle, we must see to it how we may fight with the greatest efficiency.’ The lesson is clear here, we must fight in such a way as to minimize losses and optimize gains.

War, it is written, is based on two immutable characteristics – strategy and tactics. Incidentally, these exact same elements define marketing – strategy and tactics. Marketing therefore is war. This is not surprising for the essential ingredients to defend an organisation’s turf (market share) are precisely the same elements, strategy and tactics.

In no other sector is evidence of this marketing warfare more prevalent than in the telecommunications space. The competition is near cut throat. The operators constantly at each other’s throats. They persistently, with glee, throw everything including the kitchen sink and more at each other and everyone else.

It almost appears like a fight to the death. And there have been casualties. Think Starcomms, Multilinks, Intercellular, Visafone and recently Etisalat. It’s almost a case of dog eat dog without any finesse.

The battle is fierce and the damage is real. Surviving players are besieged with declining revenue, forced job cuts and reduction in capital investment. Unconfirmed reports indicate several operators are struggling just to stay afloat.

But the real problem is that the operators are giving each other body blows using strategies and tactics cut from the same cloth. So what we see is reduced prices, freebies, more reduced prices, more freebies and then launch of a me-too product or service a few days apart.

What is this?

It may have started off as war, but now it’s just a dance with one operator copying the other.

Operators appear to have missed the point – price is not the only thing. So the war should not be only about price. Also the war should not be against each other; rather it should be against the perennial challenges that have held the sector back over the years.

What should the operators go to war about then? They should go to war about issues that impact the industry adversely, they should go to war to promote the sector and indeed, they should go to war to battle the perennial issues around telecoms in general.

In this war, operators must fight on the same side.

The place to start is multiple taxations. On multiple taxations, President, Association of Licensed Telecommunications Operators in Nigeria, ALTON, Mr. Gbenga Adebayo, has argued consistently that it “will reduce the incentive for telecommunications operators to invest in the infrastructure improvements that are essential to improve and expand mobile/broadband connectivity across Nigeria.” Multiply taxation should not be fought individually.

Operators must fight it together.

Then there is the issue of scarcity of forex; a scarcity that is today stalling new investments in data and voice infrastructure. And without new investment growth is stunted and the subscribers on the networks are short-changed.

This is another issue that operators must fight together.

Aside from these big ticket issues there are others – poor quality of service blamed on incessant fibre cuts, community demand based challenges, Right of Way issues across several different layers of government and countless others.

So it is here in plain terms. In the past, operators may have exerted themselves over the price war but now the focus should be on the ‘issues war’. It is precisely the war, operators must thrive to fight and win.

With the price war the operators continue to leave tons of money on the table; fighting a war they can’t win. That is not a good way to fight and or win a war. In an age when ARPU is dropping faster than hot knife through butter, operators cannot continue to leave money on the table in this manner.

According to Martin Sorrell, “The search for value has led companies to seek efficiency through downsizing, rationalising and right sizing – approaches that eventually result in a diminishing level of return. But what will fuel growth in the future? Growth will come through mastering the skills of creativity actionable.”

So, a word for operators, don’t out cut your competition, out think them. Better yet, think with them, think together. Yes, price is an issue, but it is not the only issue. There are other issues, important issues.

Let’s focus on issues that matter. This is the war to fight and to fight together on the same side.

You see, war does not determine who is right – only who is left.

Elvis Eromosele, Chief Content Officer at De Royale Hall Resources, an educational and content development firm.

 

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