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Azerbaijan 2013 | TELECOMS & IT | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Kent McNeley, CEO of Azerfon, on the consolidation of the brand, the high mobile penetration levels in the country, and the strengths of the sector overall.

Kent McNeley
BIOGRAPHY
Recently appointed CEO, Kent McNeley has been serving on Azerfon’s Board of Directors and has been an advisor to the CRA group of companies over 2012. Prior to joining Azerfon, he worked as CEO of Riera Ventures, a worldwide telecommunications and internet consulting firm. He gained experience in Russia and the CIS as Group Chief Marketing Officer of VimpelCom, one of the world’s largest telecommunications companies by subscribers. He previously served as Vice-President and Global Chief Marketing Officer for Eastman Kodak and the Vice-President for Client Services and Marketing for Citibank in Puerto Rico and Singapore. He began his career working for Procter & Gamble in the US.

Having recently joined Azerfon, what are your priorities and goals for the next couple of years?

We have been working on improving our network since 2011, and have just completed a major upgrade. In Baku we have an outstanding network. We are strong in the regions, but still have more work to do. We will continue to focus on improving our network, as this is the core “product" of a telecommunications company. Secondly, we want to continue to provide a range of tariff offerings to our consumers. Each of our tariffs provides excellent value to the consumer, each meets a specific consumer need, and our prices are very competitive. With a stronger network, and the best tariffs, we think we offer great value. Thirdly, we aim to improve our consumer services at touch points, such as customer care, and in our shops. We are constantly working on increasing the quality of our services. Finally, we plan to strengthen our brand during 2013, to better capitalize on our core offering.

How will you be repositioning the brand?

We need to be more consistent in our visualization and advertising. I worked for five years as Chief Marketing Officer at Beeline in Russia, which is the core brand of VimpelCom. One of the main reasons that we did so well was that we had incredible consistency, and we were very careful in all of our messaging to make sure it contributed to the strength of the brand. We now need to evolve our advertising message in that vein. Azerfon used to run two brands: Nar Mobile and Azerfon-Vodafone. We have now consolidated behind the Nar Mobile brand.

Azerbaijan currently has a mobile penetration rate of 115% and a fixed-line rate of under 20%. What is the reason for the gap?

When I was at VimpelCom, I had a chance to do business not just in Russia, but also in eight countries in the CIS, where these statistics were not uncommon. The development of fixed-line infrastructure was not a huge priority in the former Soviet states, and so when mobile telephony was introduced, it was an easy way to expand and reach people. Frankly, mobile telephony is much more convenient than fixed, and the infrastructure is much easier to develop, so it is better for the consumer. The 115% rate is based on registered SIM cards and the use of multiple kinds of devices, including tablets and dongles. Baku is well penetrated in terms of consumers that use mobile phones, and the expansion is related to dongles and second devices. Expansion in the regions, however, is primarily concentrated on new mobile users.

What is Nar Mobile's position in the market?

In terms of subscribers who have used our services within the last 90 days (90-day subs), we grew 25% in 2012. This makes us the fastest-growing mobile operator in Azerbaijan. Our mission is to provide communication space in which people can network, work, and entertain. We strongly believe in making telecommunications affordable and reliable.

How would you describe the strengths of the telecoms sector in Azerbaijan overall?

Compared to Western Europe, the penetration rate is higher due to the lack of fixed-line infrastructure here. As there is not as much fixed, there is also less broadband and that means that the use of mobile data is higher here than in many other parts of the world. The number of data subscribers in our network has more than doubled over the last year. Azerbaijan is a follower compared to countries with the latest technologies, but we are one of the first companies in the CIS to implement in-air phone calls in cooperation with Swedish company “OnAir." We have an agreement with Azerbaijani Airlines (AZAL) to provide our customers with mobile communication services while flying on its newer aircraft. We have a chance to look at what works in the world and judge what we think will be accepted by our consumers here in Azerbaijan.