Future-proof strategy

After changing the mobile services market, Nawras is all set to shake up the Internet services with the launch of its 3G+ service. Benoy George Thomas reports


For a rather young player, who celebrated its third anniversary of commencing operations only recently, Nawras has been a shining star from the word go. How else would one explain a newly set up mobile services operator walking away with the Middle East Operator of the Year 2007-2008 award in little more than two years from the time the company started offering commercial services in the sultanate? That too, trumping others with proven track record.
The answer seems to lie in a corporate vision that believes in listening to its customers and making its moves based on what the subscribers want. Rather than the arrogance of a player who has rewritten the rules of mobile services in the sultanate, Nawras has always had an ear to the ground, listening to what subscribers are saying and demanding. And this is a philosophy that is echoed and applied daily from the highest levels of the company all the way down to the customer service executives who are the public face of the company. So, it is small wonder that much as the management likes to talk about major achievements, they have their feet firmly planted on the ground.
What it also means for Nawras employees starting with CEO, Ross Cormack, and CTO, Peter Rubeck, is that they need to constantly innovate in order to do well in a market that had a firmly entrenched incumbent player. And innovate they did, when late last year Nawras launched its 3G+ services and started offering the fastest broadband service in the country with the twin advantages of being competitively priced and being mobile. The operator had started its Internet services way back in 2005, a few months after the launch, on an EDGE-based platform. But soon afterwards, plans had begun in earnest to tap both the corporate and home user markets for Internet and data services using 3G+ or third generation technology.
Mobile broadband
There were quite a few people who were demanding these services. Many already knew what they wanted," recounts Cormack about the demand for mobile broadband. The fact that there was a pilot network already up and running helped fine-tune Nawras' data and Internet services plans. The pilot phase showed that people were already using the network to download e-mail and surf the net. Nawras was ready to commercialise the service as soon as the regulatory authority's approval was obtained. But again, this was no plain vanilla offering, but one that had been thought out, based on customer feedback.
In the words of Cormack, "When we launched the service, we didn't announce it as a simple 3G+ launch, but as four separate services based on the 3G+ technology that we had deployed - mobile web browsing, Internet access, video surveillance and video calling." The twist in the strategy was that every existing customer was a potential 3G+ customer with the way the Nawras went about business. "Instead of launching the new service with new SIM cards, the existing SIM cards of all our customers were provisioned to be 3G+ ready. Overnight, all Nawras customers, both prepaid and postpaid, became potential candidates for 3G+ services," says Rubeck. From then it was just a matter of people using the service. Over 20 per cent of all the handsets in the market are already 3G enabled and most of the new ones being launched are 3G enabled.

Expanding customer base
This gamble is beginning to pay off handsomely. Just over three months after the launch of the 3G+ services, Cormack and Rubeck say that customer usage of the new service (on handsets and dongles) has already reached several tens of thousands. Nawras Broadband Internet, being instantly available without a waiting list, has resulted in the E220 modems (dongles) selling by the thousand. Nawras sales manager Mohammed al Barashdy adds that the video surveillance equipment that Nawras is already selling in its stores would be a good investment for businesses like construction and even for home users. "The 3G enabled surveillance cameras have evoked interest among many customers since a simple phone call is all that is needed to remotely check out any premises where the camera is installed. Moreover, using your phone keypad, you can even pan and zoom the camera remotely into particular areas of your premises."
The corporate client
But is that all that is on offer for the corporate world? Apparently not. Besides the fact that their current plan of RO29 for 10GB worth of data (plus RO4 for every GB of data over the 10GB limit) is only a fraction of what their competitor charges corporates, there is more news in the pipeline for the enterprise world. Nawras is currently doing the trials of wireless leased-line services with a few select corporates. Rubeck says the advantage of wireless leased lines is that the whole set up could be completed in a few days as opposed to getting a physical line drawn to the premises by a fixed line operator.
As far as quality of service and meeting customer expectations go, Nawras executives do not believe in bumpy rides. So, while the backend system can handle a maximum download speed of 7.2Mbps, the actual speed has been capped at1Mbps so as to provide a smooth experience for maximum number of subscribers. They rationalise that customers will be able to enjoy high-speed broadband without any decline in quality of surfing or downloading at this speed. The capping can always be changed in the future when the market develops further.
In a world where technology changes so fast, Nawras has already future-proofed itself to a great extent by layering the architecture so that third-party applications can be simply plugged in. This will help the company to increase the content available for its customers in the long run. This strategy will have long-term implications for enhancing the value-added services (VAS) revenues of the service provider.
Meanwhile, offering of new VAS continues unabated, the latest being the local services section. Details about local restaurants, cinemas, global weather and news as well as worldwide flight details including arrivals, departures and general airport information are now easily accessible from any mobile phone with a Nawras SIM card. This innovative service also incorporates a link to favourite search engines together with a listing for all Nawras stores showing timings, locations and current promotions.
The flight information available is quite comprehensive and is not restricted to covering only the sultanate's airports, but also allows customers to check the arrival and departure of airplanes and even the weather at airports worldwide. Mohammed says this is expected to be a hit with frequent travellers in the coming months, not to mention the fact that it should do wonders to the average revenue per user (ARPU) for the service provider.
Being a mobile services provider has always meant staying on top of some of the fastest changing technologies in the world. Having transformed the telecom sector with its world-class services built on cutting-edge technologies, Nawras has shaken up the sector and gone on to enjoy a strong nationwide presence, in the process truly ensuring that its customers really 'get closer'.
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Future-proof strategy
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