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Innovation and quality showcase Angolan mobile operator

Interview - February 25, 2015

General director, José Paulo Dias Henriques, talks about Movicel’s development of telecom services in Angola, its improvement in the quality of service and access to high-speed mobile data. 


I would like to start with a small introduction, specially taking into account your vast experience in some African countries. How would you define the telecommunications and ICT market in Angola? What advantages does it carry with respect to its regional neighbors and what are the current challenges of the sector?

Angola, like many other countries, has been through the same problem of lack of physical infrastructures. However, in the meantime you require operators and the provision of services of access to communications, even without cables and the necessary physical infrastructure.  

It is normal in Angola and in almost all of Africa that the mobile services operators and the internet service operator are the same. In countries with large oil production things are different because there is a bigger purchasing capacity from clients, companies and the economy itself. As I said before, there are still some limitations in terms of physical infrastructure which naturally makes us one of the Internet services providers and positions ourselves as such.

For us the opportunities in Angola are very similar to the ones in the rest of Africa. Yet what is different is that from the standpoint of the country and its economic conditions, we need to compare it with other African oil-producing countries. In Nigeria (which has 60 million inhabitants and is the second biggest African economy), in Brazzaville and in Gabão I have found similarities with Angola, because oil countries are different as they possess a bigger purchasing capacity from their consumers.

With regards to the lack of physical infrastructure in African countries, there are now two big projects about to be developed in Angola: the satellite and the submarine cable. In your view, what relevance do these projects have in the competitiveness of Angola at the regional and at the international level?

Movicel has been since the start of the Angola Cable project one of its participants and actionists. As such we have contributed not only as actionists but also as active market members with a relevant opinion and our own vision regarding the position Angola Cable will need to have from the viewpoint of an international player. Angola Cable is not a project conceived just for Angola, it is above all a company with the view of competing in the international market with the big players in terms of submarine cables.

We know beforehand that it is going to be a tough and competitive game, but taking into account the strategic position of the country we think we will be able to work at that level. Since the cable will be at the same latitude as South America it is a very important location as it creates inside the cables market access to the South that did not exist so far. Angola is willing to contribute to this cable to the South so there is no world dependency from Europe or the United States. The other agenda has to do with the creation of its own agenda to follow its own destiny and not to remain at the will of other multinational players. Angola has the financial capacity from the State and the private sector, for example with companies like Movicel, to do these investments so as to be the owner of its own destiny.

Furthermore, from the point of view of Angola Cables we participate in WAX, which is a very necessary aspect for the profiles of capability of international transmissions in the sense that it provides a national alternative that did not exist before.

As the Vice-President of the Republic Mr. Manuel Vicente would say, a productive investment and the existence of a private sector are necessary for the development of key strategic sectors, one of them being precisely that of telecommunications and ICTs. How would you define the relationship of the government with the new eras of telecommunications the country is about to go through? Which are the areas that ought to be reinforced?

The State has a really important participation in the future of the development of telecommunications, specially enlarging the capacity of investment of private and state companies. With the support of the state there is greater motivation and confidence that the projects will be executed, because solely through the financing capacity of a bank or private capital it would not be possible to carry all the projects that will give the capacity of telecommunications the country aspires to achieve.

Besides, the State is naturally the biggest employer of the country, so many of our consumers depend directly or indirectly from it. That same State is also one of the biggest services/products contractors of the companies, which portrays a pyramidal dependency of the State from companies and people. Any positive or negative movement of the State’s budget has a direct impact in the financial capacity of private companies and consumers. What is going right now with the oil (price) is critical for the country and the companies.

Talking about the importance of creating infrastructures to make better-quality telecommunications services, the director of Unitel - Tony Dalton – has told us that in his opinion the telecommunication infrastructures should not be shares. What is your opinion about this?

Of course I do not share that opinion. I would say it is only natural for Tony Dalton or any other big company leader to say that infrastructures should not be shared. I would also say it is quite a narrow point of view because you need to see which is the true core business of a telecommunications operator, and that is not for sure to operate antennas or telecommunication towers and having to maintain them with generators, petrol, insurance, etc. but to provide telecommunication services of mobile phones with quality and quantity.

To be honest I do not think it is a correct position to have but it is a typical position of a leader to want to have larger and larger coverage in order to gain differentiated conditions with regards to its competitors, so it is natural that he does not want to share. As I have said, I understand the position of Tony Dalton and Carlos Linho but the non-sharing of infrastructures does not bring the intended development to the country. I think that it is necessary to look at the development and enrichment of the sector and not only the one of the companies. This is why there are sector regulators, to allow us all to grow and permitting areas where it is possible to share telecommunications infrastructures for the greater good of the consumers.  It is also so there can be market equilibrium and this way achieve major service coverage.

A basic principle of telecommunications services is to provide coverage to the populations, and since there is not enough infrastructure for them to reach the people with cables, it is the mobile operators the ones that must provide this service. Sharing infrastructures is a subject of national interest that goes beyond the companies’ individual interests. From the countries where I have been (17 countries), 10 were telecommunication leaders and 7 were not, and it was there where the concept of renting the towers to the competitors of the service-providers companies was created. The business of sharing those infrastructures is not a business of telecommunication companies but that of companies who understand real estate. 

The issue of providing a quality service is really important. The client wonders first about the quality and only later he wants to know the price. Naturally, a good price demands the existence of good services that work. If there is an antenna which is maintained by a service provider who has expenditures in insurance, generator, petrol, etc. in the presence of a problem everybody else will be harmed. That is why it is better when there are companies who own the antennas and who are in charge of their efficient functioning, leaving the operators the time to care for the quality and the providing of the services for the client’s satisfaction, with the maximum objective of taking the coverage to the national level.

With regards to the needs of infrastructure, the specialists predict that at the continental level Africa will be one of the regions that will grow the most in the next years concerning data consumption. This is a trend that is already visible in Angola. How is Movicel capitalizing itself for this phenomenon?

The capacity we acquired in cables of international transmissions is still not fast enough so we need to continue improving. The trend of growth in data services consumption is a worldwide trend and not only one of Africa. It is a trend that affects positively and negatively to operators like Movicel, whose physical structure is not present here.

The difference between voice service and data service is that voice is consumed by humans and data is consumed by machines which demand a lot more as they have more or less unlimited consumption capacity, hence their exponential consumption.  

Regarding what Movicel is going to do in benefit of data services, naturally as actionist of the Angola Cable project we provide a guarantee and an alternative towards international capacity in terms of quantity and quality. Movicel was the first operator to release 4G technology in Africa.

Today all the Luanda metropolitan area benefits from this technology. That is one of the contributions of Movicel to provide this important data service to the populations. In this moment we have 4G in greater-Luanda, in Cabinda and in Benguela, and we are also looking at changing our networks in the rest of the country.

4G has a selective treatment depending on the business volume capacity. For example if the modem is a bit more expensive and the speed is greater, we need to invest in that segment in a selective manner. From the experience I have in Africa I can affirm that Movicel has a data quality much higher than that of any other country I have been in the continent.

Which would you say is the importance for Movicel in the near future of the corporate niche, especially now that a considerable number of Spanish companies are thinking about establishing themselves in Angola, certainly finding in a Movicel a strategic partner?

For obvious reasons, having corporate clients is very important to Movicel as they are clients with more value. They are important for our future and we embrace them well, we even have a corporate segment called Movicel Negócios with offers directed and dedicated to this segment, and that is already a differential over the competition.

We are talking about clients who are not sensitive to prices but to the quality of the services, and once again the quality of our data services, international calls, roaming, etc. must function well. Having that in mind, we are keen on having partners and international providers who can help us keep the quality of the service provided to the potential Spanish corporate clients and not do it on our own.

Telefonica in Spain, for example, is our strong partner in roaming. In 2007 when we began with the GSM technology the fastest way to face the competition was to establish a partnership with Telefonica, who guarantees that in every country they have roaming we are present as well. Our SIM cards are also bought in Spain. We have good relations with Spanish entrepreneurs.

Which are the opportunities for cooperation and collaboration between Movicel and Spanish companies from the sector?

First of all, let me say that we always look for innovation. We look for innovation for the typical needs of European clients and African markets. We have to develop specific innovations for Africa for them to actually work here. That way companies from Spain can help us bringing business proposals that allows us to innovate, as innovating is a pillar of our brand through which we bring novelties to our clients and we increase the value of our services.

Data is the future and when you can see the future we have to understand how to walk through it with what we have today, without trying to hurry in the meantime. We need to have the necessary patience to get there and give the right steps in that direction. Kids today do not watch television but YouTube all the time and with that data will a big source of revenue. In that segment there is a need to invest a lot. Europe has already been through that; we are just entering that phase. What we need to now from the social viewpoint is to guarantee that everyone has the possibility to stay connected in the way they want with the financial capacity they have.

How is Movicel to contribute with last generation phones?

From last generation we have routers and 4G phones, which is not a technology that comes originally as part of the equipment; we need to order devices with that technology.

Many consider the Angolan human capital as one of the setbacks for the country’s development. How is Movicel supporting the training and making of its human capital?

First of all Movicel is a 100% Angolan company with 99% Angolan workers. There are not many companies like that in Angola. In 1000 workers we have 13 expatriates, or 1.3% expatriate work force, and that only happens because there is still the need to develop specific knowledge for the national graduates and technicians. Here the expatriates always have an objective, to train and to be part of a national team to present positive and immediate results to the company. An expatriate can never be seen as a long term worker.

Concerning the development of the company’s human resources, we have an internal program where the vision is to identify the technical and behavioral competences, generic and specific, of each worker that are necessary to the businesses and the objectives of the company. With that same framework we can think about the training of people with enough competences to the level of future leadership. All that is part of a training plan of our human resources which is being developed right now. We can already say that the company is very strong in terms of human capital.

Do you see the possibility of international relations with foreign education institutes?

Yes. The final result of how we are going to transmit the development of the competences to our collaborators, one they are identified, will be to develop an organizational scheme and for that I believe that the training must not be done internationally must necessarily here as we will achieve much better results. Furthermore, it is much better to bring to Angola one or two teachers than taking abroad 20 national graduates.

What we still need to find is who can help us train our personnel. The training of our personnel is a big concern for us; that is why in less than a month we have been through a re-organization of our structure, because the company needs to adjust to the current and future reality. As part of this re-structuring all the new directors are Angolans.

I would like to finish this interview with a more personal question. As an Angolan, with all the experience you have gained in African countries, which is the legacy you would like to leave to future generations?

We always want to leave a good legacy to the following generation. Once I spent three years working for another operator and I can say with a lot of pleasure that the legacy I left there still remains, not only in the people who are grateful because of the things they know and learnt during the period I worked with them but also in the machines that were created and designed during the time I was at the lead. To know that I contributed to someone’s training is already really gratifying.

For the future I would like to leave a legacy of natural and easy access to information, in any way. For me the biggest legacy is for people to change the way they think to a more extensive way so they can influence other people’s lives from the social viewpoint or the service providers one. I would like for their policies to be sensitive to everyone, for them to be competitive and not necessarily expensive services or products but to reach a maximum scale.

I would also like to leave a legacy of people who think in big things that reach the biggest possible number of people. Unfortunately there are still few companies in Angola who are concerned about this, considering that they have at their front a universe of 24 million people to get to.