TRUE COMPETITIVE EDGE

Lebanon 2019 | TELECOMS & IT | INTERVIEW

Wonet's breakthrough service allows customers to evade roaming fees and make calls through their primary number from anywhere in the world.

Joseph Ged
BIOGRAPHY
Joseph Ged manages private investment projects in the telecoms sector, his most recent project being Wonet. From 2007 to 2016, he was the General Manager of the Ooredoo Algeria mobile network operator, responsible for taking the company from the third position in 2007 to the first position in 2016 in the Algerian market and growing the company’s subscriber base from 2 million to 14 million. Prior to joining Ooredoo, Ged held senior positions in the telecommunications industry in Canada, the US, and Brazil. He has also been involved in operations in Europe, Africa, and Asia.

What does Wonet offer?

Wonet offers two main services: voice and data. Customers can download the app and subscribe to both or either one for a monthly fee. The novelty of Wonet is that customers can receive and make calls through their own number from anywhere in the world without roaming fees. Wonet customers can also call other Wonet users for free. Our advantage, compared to Skype, is that we offer this highly competitive service free of charge on the customer's primary number. This is an important step forward in terms of customers' comfort. Originally, we started in France by providing clients with a similar service on a secondary number, just like Skype and another 300 companies do. In this crowded market, we did not have a truly competitive edge. Then, we concluded that customers do not want to change their number. Thanks to a technological breakthrough that is under patent review by the European Patent Office, we managed to offer the same service on the same number; thus, raising the bar higher for the whole market. In simple terms, this technological breakthrough consisted of taking the voice out of the SIM and storing it on the app. This means that even after taking the SIM out, you can be reached anywhere on your own number. So far, the service has been commercialized in 40 countries (mostly in Europe and the US), where voiceover IP is legal and permitted. The second main service is data. This is driven by a physical data SIM, which we deliver to any destination in the world. The SIM costs EUR30 and has unlimited validity. We offer six data packs corresponding to the six continents: Europe, the US, Latin America, Africa, Middle East, and APAC. All packs have a validity of 30 days, and the prices vary from EUR20 and the bundles vary from 0.5-2GB, depending on the destination. The most aggressive pricing we have is in Europe, at 2GB for EUR20.

In what ways do you intend to empower operators?

At present, Wonet is shifting its strategy and focusing on partnering with mobile operators to empower them by offering free roaming services, such as our Roam Like at Home (RLAH) service. Roaming fees are negotiated between the operators of different countries. Unfortunately, this is nothing but a volume game; in regions with high volume, such as the EU, operators have the power and strength to negotiate competitive prices, while individual operators in the Middle East or other regions do not, thus the higher roaming prices. Mobile operators in the region have gradually lost importance because they have maintained high roaming prices despite the free-of-charge services offered by apps like WhatsApp, which was first used internationally to bypass roaming fees. Wonet's business model is to tackle this precise aspect, empowering mobile operators from all regions. We want to be perceived as roaming partners for the mobile operators, not as business disruptors. In countries where voiceover IP is not permitted (such as some countries the Middle East), Wonet has little competitive value. For this reason, partnerships with country operators will be the focus of our regional strategy. Our value proposition to mobile operators is that, by offering the people the right price and data on their regular mobile number, users will move away from WhatsApp, at least when they travel. This will change the declining trend of roaming revenues that operators have been experiencing recently.

What are your goals for 2019?

We are in advanced discussions with the two main Lebanese operators, Alfa and Touch. Our goal is to launch services in Lebanon by 3Q2019. We have plans for out-of-country services in Iraq, the UAE, Jordan, and other countries. We look forward to having minimum four operators in three to four countries and exploring partnerships with additional operators. We want to empower mobile operators to be able to set their own roaming rates without being dictated by the large groups. This will have a ripple effect on retail prices, benefiting the end user.