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In an interview with Telecom Review, Marwan Hayek, Chairman and CEO, Alfa talked about the company's remarkable success in 2015 and the future plans and vision for 2016.

How can you briefly evaluate the performance of Alfa for 2015?
I can say that 2015 was another year that further proved the power of broadband connectivity today, and the huge impact mobile data has on people and their behavior and lifestyle, in all aspects, which requires from us, as operators' continuous creativity and innovation, to meet customer demands for digital technologies.

Last year, we have seen an unprecedented growth in data traffic especially on our 4G LTE network where growth reached more than 500 percent by Dec 2015, compared to same period in 2014. This is a record increase thanks to the 81 percent smartphone penetration on our network. It only tells us how hungry are customers in Lebanon for data and how enthusiastic they are about being at the heart of the mobile data revolution. We launched the first live 4G+ LTE Advanced site in Q3, 2015 in Lebanon and the region, achieving actual speeds of 300 Mbits/sec. We embraced change and engaged in the Internet of Things (IoT) trend through the launching of our wearable device, the Malak-e tracking mobile watch, which addresses kids and enables parents to easily locate, and monitor them anytime, anywhere. This was only the start.

Our network KPIs remain steady and excellent and in line with international benchmarks as certified by our major equipment manufacturers. We have further maintained Alfa's leading position among local and worldwide networks on many fronts. Our throughout rate on 3G+ network is highest than the world average putting us at the top 14 ranks among 79 Ericsson markets. Our 4G LTE KPIs are excellent and we maintain a competitive edge over EME and world averages.

What is Alfa's business strategy for 2016; any focus on services such as enterprises, data, or increasing subscribers' numbers?
Our focus in 2016 is to continue providing high quality services while keeping innovation as main pillar of our strategy.

In a market where we are close to saturation, with a 94+ percent mobile penetration rate, and with the record growth we are witnessing in terms of data traffic, the challenges we are set for are abundant and enormous.
However, we see them as growth opportunities that will further set Alfa as a main contributor to the digital economy growth in Lebanon and to further positioning Lebanon as a leader on this front.

In 2016, we plan to set the foundation for digitization in the local market and continue to drive innovation around non-traditional business models such as the IoT trend.

2016 for us, is also the year of nationwide 4G+/LTE Advanced coverage. This is a big challenge, but a huge step forward and we stand ready for it. We have the resources, the team and the strategy in place, and our track record proves that we can and we deliver in record times.

What role does customer experience play for that strategy to succeed in the Lebanese market?
We place the customer experience at the heart of our corporate strategy. We strongly believe that CEM is a journey, not a destination. Our aim is, not only to understand the customer experience from his perspective, but also to anticipate his needs. This can happen through establishing compelling, integrated customer experience across every communication channel with the customers. Consistency across all channels is key, as is measuring how successfully we capture customer interest.

We are already relying on many scattered CEM platforms to get closer to our customers. We intend to integrate them into a central platform that treats and analyzes all the information we amass about our subscribers through all our channels.

As part of this CEM journey, and since 2013, we have been actively working on collecting the voice of our customers in order to better meet their needs and expectations. Over 2.6 million surveys have been sent to our customers since 2013, and 26 programs were launched with more than 200 initiatives taken and implemented upon the results and the feedback we garnered. Some of the initiatives we launched include introducing the live chat as a new channel for communication on Alfa website, which is a first from Alfa. Other initiatives are in the pipeline and will be announced soon.

How are you benefiting from the increase of data usage? How much has it increased so far from the previous couple of years?
Our data traffic has almost been multiplied by more than 22 times in the last couple of years thanks to the massive expansion on the network and namely the introduction of the 3G and 4G technologies. Between December 2014 - 2015, we have seen a 40 percent increase in data traffic over our 3G+ network and more than 500 percent surge in data traffic over the 4G LTE network. This is a huge increase coupled with a rise in LTE capable devices in the market of 107 percent and an increase in data subscriptions by 11 percent. According to the GSMA Mobile Economy Report for 2015, data traffic is expected to see an almost ten-fold increase by 2019 and at Alfa, we are witnessing this exponential data growth, we are part of it and ready for the challenge.

Envisioning the future of telecom in Lebanon, what is your vision for 2016?
Mobile in Lebanon is a key enabler for a digitized society that will pave the way to developing all other sectors in the country: Banking, public, health, communication, etc. Of course, we remain focused on establishing cross functional partnerships with these other non-telco sectors through which we will be able to offer reliable and added value services that also benefit our society.

The mass adoption of connected digital services that we provide will greatly contribute to the economy growth, jobs creation and also to maintaining Lebanon at the forefront of the technological innovations in the region.

We see a promising and bright future. Despite the current setup which makes it hard to develop a long term strategy, we are all geared up for the mobile data revolution and all the enormous challenges it brings. We have proven since taking over the management of Alfa in 2009, and through all our milestones throughout these years, that we are able to move ahead with this operation and run it in a smooth way that satisfies us, our stakeholders and our customers. Change is in our DNA and we are ready to move to the next level through the digital transformation.

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