Enough is enough: It’s time to dial up change in the telecoms industry

As we start a new decade, the telecoms sector must become obsessed by customers and step up the pace of change, writes VEON’s joint COO Kaan Terzioglu.
VEON COO Kaan Terzioglu
Over the last 25 years, our industry has been slow to offer much beyond the traditional pre and post-paid products, gigabytes, voice minutes and texts. The bare minimum of what our customers’ need in their daily lives.

It’s obvious where the industry has gone wrong. We have stopped adapting our offer for customers – undermining and ignoring what we know they want. Telecoms has been one of the only industries in the world afraid of future demand and unless we adapt and innovate, we are in danger of becoming irrelevant.

One reason for this lack of change is the reluctance to move away from the more simplistic and primitive applications mentioned above (i.e. minutes, texts). We are fearful of changing our business models, yet our customers’ needs are different to what they were three decades ago. If we can see that consumer behaviour is changing, why aren’t we?

Customers want a combination of digital services: instant messaging, search engines, cloud services, mobile banking, music and TV streaming. We should be excited about offering these on top of our traditional network infrastructure. We need to be marrying them together with traditional connectivity – not keeping them apart.

This means bundling content and applications – breaking the curse of limited plans with a restricted number of minutes or data. We will only become true digital operators when we offer a real data package that brings engaging services that serve customers’ needs. We can do this in several ways – investing in R&D and new technology, upgrading our distribution channels or creating strategic partnerships to curate more of these applications.

This approach needs to reach customers in developing countries – not just those in the West. These countries are witnessing rapid infrastructure development, new government initiatives and economic growth: all of which amount to a golden age, ripe with opportunities for the telecoms industry.

Unlike Western Europe or North America, where populations are largely stagnant and aging, they are developing with young, fast-growing populations seeking technology to enhance their day-to-day lives. For example, 60% of Pakistan’s 210 million-strong population is less than 30 years old. By 2030, its population is forecast to hit 245 million.

If we want to drive digital prosperity in these markets, and reap the benefits of this new connected generation, we need to give them an equal offering. The appetite is already there: our digital financial services platform JazzCash in Pakistan has 7 million monthly users, confirming its spot as the most popular mobile wallet in the country. In Kazakhstan, Beeline allows customers to pay for bus tickets with their mobile phone and in Ukraine our operator Kyivstar gives customers the option to pay for taxis using its Smart-Money payments app.

The telecoms industry often talks about adding value to the customer experience, yet it’s clearly our customers that are being forgotten. Our industry needs to learn more about their needs – how they are using our services at a local level and what they are seeking more of.

In 2020 and beyond, VEON is committed to placing customers at the centre of everything we do. It’s time for the rest of the industry to catch up.

By Kaan Terzioglu, joint chief operating officer at VEON