Azerbaijan 2016 | TELECOMS & IT | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Kent McNeley, CEO of Azerfon, on LTE-A technology, rebranding, and bringing Nar into the home for television and internet.

 Kent McNeley
Kent McNeley served on Azerfon’s Board of Directors before being appointed CEO. 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.

Nar Mobile plans to present a LTE-A technology during 2016. What advantages does this new technology bring to mobile customers in Azerbaijan?

LTE-A is about more speed. The download speeds that are seen in laboratory tests for LTE-A can exceed 200 MB per second, whereas the laboratory speed of normal LTE is closer to 100. We demonstrated this technology at Bakutel in December of 2015 and are finishing the final installation preparations and expect to offer it shortly. LTE continues to be a leading technology and it will take time for this to be broadly used in the market, which is beneficial for early adopters. When LTE is not heavily used, speeds are going to be lightning fast. Unlike our two competitors, our SIM cards have been designed for several years to ensure a smooth switch to LTE. Our competitors have older SIM cards that cannot be transferred to new devices without physically changing the SIM. We launched this service in October and within two and a half months we established ourselves as the leading LTE operator in Azerbaijan.

Nar Mobile rebranded over 2015. What were the key initiatives in this effort?

A major part of the rebranding was an iconography facelift by trying to alter public perception of Nar Mobile as an old fashioned brand to something more modern, bolder, and contemporary. Research shows that we made dramatic improvements with our new logo and 90% of all consumers that we tested reported high levels of likeability. That gave us a strong foundation.

What are some of the specifics of Nar Garden's creative platform?

We situated our advertising campaign in the Nar Garden, depicting this Garden as a comfortable, safe place for family and friends, and a place where people want to help each other. This complements our focus on consumer service. The combination of the strong new logo and the background of the creative platform have worked together and helped stimulate our business. The Garden is consistent with a lot of Azerbaijani values such as a welcoming attitude, integrity and honesty, and a feeling of service. We are utilizing “Nar,” or “Pomegranate,” because it is the national fruit and we think this combination will help make us a more welcomed brand.

As the fastest-growing mobile network in Azerbaijan, how does your company stay competitive in a mobile phone market that has a 110% penetration rate?

You will never grow in a penetrative market without innovation. Therefore, we are constantly working on new ways to bring new services and capabilities to our customers. We go out and talk to our consumers, trade dealer partners, and distributors to find out how our products are performing. For example, we decided to drive to Ganja instead of taking a flight in order to visit 15 different cities on the way, stopping at 50 different shops and meeting shop owners. From their feedback we were able to introduce some changes. Providing services that meet the consumer's needs is a key part of how we will maintain growth.

What are your main projects and ambitions for this year in particular?

We continue to invest in our network, which has now passed the leading competitor in the market in terms of number of base stations. Over the last two years, we have almost doubled the size of network. Our network also has the broadest footprint of LTE and it continues to get more and more 3G stations. We will focus on strengthening our presence in the regions, especially since we have improved our network. We want consumers to return and experience Nar Mobile in a new way. Our second goal is centered around Nar Home, through which we have ambitious plans to bring Nar into the home from a television and internet standpoint. We want to provide single bundles for the home and mobile experience. We have recently acquired a stake in City Net, one of the largest and highest-quality internet providers in Baku, and are working with it to speed up this process.