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In an exclusive interview with Telecom Review, Mikhail Gerchuk, CEO e& international, talks about the power of partnerships, brand portfolios, AI and ML in charting and creating a differentiated customer experience.

What are the latest initiatives/partnerships e& international is implementing to bring best-in-class digital experiences to customers across its operating markets and beyond?

e& international is committed to delivering exceptional digital experiences to our customers across stable markets. First and foremost, we need to enable our customers to have a great mobile internet experience and mobile internet connectivity. We're constantly improving our networks and using modern technologies such as AI to optimise our networks to deliver the best possible mobile internet for our customers. We have invested in 3G, 4G and 5G networks to cover and deliver the best speeds possible. As a result, we are leaders in providing a great customer and network experience in the markets we operate in. Secondly, we ensure a great customer digital experience by bringing out products that improve their daily lives across various segments. For example, in financial services, we are constantly growing the number of wallets and payment instruments available to our customers through their mobile phones. Recently, through our partnership with MoneyGram, we enabled easy and cost-efficient remittance services between countries that have our footprints, especially in the UAE and Saudi Arabia, which are the two biggest countries for outgoing remittances.

Another area where we are advancing is the gaming sector. We have partnered with several gaming platforms to provide a great gaming experience through mobile to our customers in our 4G and 5G networks. As a result, we already have over 2 million gaming customers on our mobile platform.

Our partnership with Circles is a significant step towards empowering Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) within our footprint to launch successful digital telco brands. Circles X, a cloud-native, digital-first platform, enables MNOs to provide agile and cost-effective digital services, transforming the way they connect with their customers and compete in the digital era across Singapore, Japan, Australia and other countries. In a joint venture with Circles, we launched a brand called Onic for our customers in Pakistan to provide digital telco services with a great experience seamlessly and cost-effectively.

What is the benefit of having a growing portfolio of telecom brands, and how are they changing the way the world connects in the digital era?

e& international’s strategy is to expand our telecom footprint to stable markets to expand our customer base and operations in order to benefit from economies of scale by developing great digital products and launching them in those markets. Today, we have 165 million customers across our footprint, which allows us to offer our products in financial services, content products and gaming, as well as various B2B products for our business customers. We continue to expand our portfolio. In August 2023, we expanded into Central and Eastern Europe through a game-changing acquisition—a controlling stake in PPF Telecom. This strategic venture covers Bulgaria, Hungary, Serbia, and Slovakia, primarily focusing on infrastructure businesses. We foresee significant synergies and operational efficiencies as we embark on this journey into Central and Eastern Europe. Now, this deal is going through regulatory approvals, and if it is approved, these four countries with 10 million customers will join e& family.

Secondly, we recently launched the Partner Networks Programme, which fosters collaboration and knowledge sharing among telecom operators. This initiative brings together like-minded organisations to collectively drive growth, share best practices, and enhance service offerings. A few months ago, we announced our first partnership with Tunisie Telecom, and now we work together to provide best-in-class services to their customers. We offer our partners the benefits of scale and expertise that e& has because of its very large footprint by offering services in Customer Value Management, artificial intelligence, procurement, wholesale traffic, digital telco, and so on. We provide several services that support small and medium operators. After Tunisie Telecom, we announced several new partnerships in the Middle East and Africa as well as in Asia. Our partners and their customers can enjoy all the benefits that e& can provide them in terms of digital products and services.

From your perspective, what more can be done to enhance the digital journey of customers, particularly in the Middle East region?

We invest in expanding the region's high-speed broadband and 5G networks. This infrastructure forms the backbone of the digital era, enabling faster and more reliable connectivity. We're committed to expanding our 5G network across the Middle East, including Egypt and Pakistan. 5G is the next frontier of ultra-fast, low-latency connectivity and opens up possibilities for augmented reality, IoT and more.

Through digital inclusion, we are making sure that our customers have affordable devices, tariffs and rates to enable them to start using mobile internet, as access to mobile internet can transform the lives of families in many ways. We work with enterprises and governments to improve the digital experience of their customers by participating in E-government programs in every country of operation to make government services more inclusive, approachable and convenient for the customer. We work with businesses to enhance their cybersecurity so that customers have confidence that their data and transactions are secure in the digital realm. We developed the Internet of Things (IoT) to enable businesses and organizations to automate their operations. For our B2B customers, we make sure that customer services are easily accessible through our digital channels.

By leveraging AI and machine learning, how does e& international tailor its digital products and services to meet individual customers' specific needs and preferences?

At e&, we have decided to become an AI-centric organization. We want AI input in all elements of our operations and touch points with our customers. We use AI tools to analyze data and come up with the most appropriate and relevant recommendations at any given time. We use the most advanced analytical models and platforms, including generative AI, to come up with the best possible recommendations and deliver them in the most convincing, simple and easy-to-understand way to our customers. We also use AI to improve our operations, for example, to predict network outages and issues with the network in order to streamline our various internal services. Most importantly, we use AI to optimize our customer service and customer care to deliver a great experience through all digital touchpoints through our chatbot and web applications. We believe that AI can revolutionize the way we deliver internet connectivity and services to our customers through a better understanding of their needs to deliver accurate and contextual recommendations.

e& international’s strategy has four important pillars. The first pillar is to accelerate the organic growth of operations by providing the best possible customer experience to our customers. The second pillar is to build and grow best-in-class digital services for our 150 million customers across our countries of operation. The third pillar is to continue expanding geographically in stable markets with growth potential to deliver best-in-class mobile internet and digital experiences to our customers. Our fourth pillar is to ensure that every operator in the e& family benefits from all the economies of scale and expertise that we can develop as one group. This is a very important differentiator that we can offer to our partner operators.

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