A NICE RECEPTION

Azerbaijan 2016 | TELECOMS & IT | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Samir Gurbanov, President of AG Telecom, on the active developments of the company over the past 10 years and the successful penetration of the regional market.

Samir Gurbanov
BIOGRAPHY
Born in Baku, Samir Gurbanov graduated from the Azerbaijan State Oil Academy with a degree in chemical technology. He established AG Telecom in 2005, also launching the KATV 1 cable operator, which provides cable television and internet technologies. In 2010, he was elected and is the current president of the Association of Cable Operators of Azerbaijan, and in 2011 was elected Vice President of the European Cable Communications Association.

This year your company celebrates its 10th anniversary. Could you tell us about the achievements of the company during this period?

In 10 years, our company was able to become one of the largest cable operators in the South Caucasus and Central Asia region. Our audience includes hundreds of thousands of people in Azerbaijan and dozens of other countries. We provide TV broadcasts through the most modern channels, allowing us to reach a wider audience. The most important achievement of our company is the democratization of cable television in Azerbaijan. Before AG Telecom, this service was extremely expensive and was only available at a premium level. Since our inception, we have managed to offer reasonable prices and meet the huge consumer demand for this service. Our company has made this service affordable to the mass market. We have not only continuously improved our technologies and expanded new services in the field of cable television, but also offered more services and products. The international music channel TMB TV, the Russian-language TV channel TMB for Russia, the radio channel AGFM for Georgia, the national television internet portal Myvideo.az, Call Center 119, and KATV1 internet allow us to operate in Azerbaijan and many other countries.

The Myvideo.az television portal is one of the most interesting projects in the region. How did this service manage to achieve such popularity in a short time?

The main reason for the popularity of Myvideo.az is the integration of advanced technologies into the website. People can watch any TV program within a 10-day archive. This allows each user of myvideo.az to watch TV shows, sports events, movies, and other TV programs at a convenient time for them. Our SmartBox device, which we recently launched on the market, allows you to connect to our cable TV services from any point in Azerbaijan that has a minimum internet speed of 2MB/s. This device is tightly integrated with myvideo.az and allows you to view on TV more than 10,000 movies, TV series, and cartoons. SmartBox can turn every ordinary TV set into a smart TV. In addition to watching TV channels and video content from myvideo.az, users can also use a variety of applications through the TV set, including Instagram, YouTube, and Facebook.

What is the reason behind AG Telecom's interest in regional markets?

Our business strategy is to cover regional markets and to develop a variety of services within Azerbaijan. We understand that the Azerbaijani market is too small for our ambitions, and we will sooner or later have to face the challenge of expanding to foreign markets. We started the process of developing regional markets without waiting for the domestic market to become saturated. In the regional market, we perform a social function by promoting the achievements and culture of Azerbaijan. For example, we launched our regional AG Telecom radio channel for our compatriots in Georgia. The same radio channel is broadcast to the whole world via satellite. Our activities at the international music channel TMB TV once again prove that it is possible to successfully enter regional markets. We feel confident in foreign markets and even recently launched a Russian-language version. We have plans to launch another series of projects for the region.

Your company has a strong position not only in broadcasting, but also in providing internet services. Why did you choose to enter this competitive and risky field?

By developing services for internet access, we were guided by two factors. First, internet services will always be in demand and we do not see a mass infrastructure technology that can surpass the fiber-optic solution in the next 10-15 years. Our company offers not only ADSL, but a dedicated line, which substantially surpasses the quality of ADSL. Secondly, after our successful start in television, we thought that internet services seemed like a good fit for us, as the business model of this service is known and the demand will be permanent. We had to invest in the development of optics in the beginning, which is quite capital intensive. We then tried to attract new customers by stepping outside of our infrastructure network. Thus, the idea of myvideo.az was born, which has no equivalent in Azerbaijan, and we started selling SmartBox. Today, our target audience is the entire population of the country, not just those within the area of our infrastructure network. We are creating new markets and are actively engaged in diversification to keep up with market demands.

AG Telecom is also known as a company that supports interesting initiatives to create internet TV channels. What was your reasoning behind this approach to development?

We maintain our dynamism as a company by developing new projects from innovative startups. Our approach is already known outside Azerbaijan and other companies come to us with different business initiatives, including Western European companies. In terms of international cooperation, our company is an active participant in many conferences, forums, and exhibitions. We are also active in cooperating at the level of industry associations. I am the head of the Association of Cable Operators of Azerbaijan and within the framework of this organization we were able to regulate the interaction of Azerbaijani cable TV operators with foreign channels, as well as win a strong position in the Eurasian TV area. Today, our national cable industry is respected and cited as an example for countries that have problems between operators.

In the period of low energy prices, the interest in other segments of the economy has increased significantly. How is the ICT sector able to lead the development of the non-oil sector in Azerbaijan?

The field of high technology has long been one of the most interesting segments of the economy. We saw this potential 10 years ago when we created AG Telecom and launched one of the largest cable operators, KATV1. We started as a cable television operator, but now we are essentially a multidisciplinary high-tech company that is able to solve complex problems. The whole ICT sector is going the same way and I can confidently say that Azerbaijan has a real chance of becoming a leader in the Trans-Caspian region in the field of technology.

AG Telecom also supports such recognized cultural events as TURKSOY and other similar projects. How does AG Telecom promote Azerbaijani culture?

AG Telecom is actively involved in various projects to support Azerbaijani culture abroad. The international TV channel TMB, which we run, is a long-time information partner of TURKSOY, which is engaged in the promotion of Turkic culture. The interests of Azerbaijan are supported by an international TV channel, increasing respect for and loyalty to our country. In the digital era, Azerbaijan cannot be limited by physical boundaries. The world is changing and, according to these trends, we have to change our actions.