How has the One Network performed?
One Network is a borderless network that Zain introduced in 2006, which has been spread to 17 countries.
It allows customers to make calls at local rates and receive calls for free. We believe geographical borders are for historical reasons and should not stop peopleâ€™s interaction.
Because people travel and have families in different countries, we created an instrument to enable them stay in contact at an affordable rate and in a convenient way.
Since we launched the product, we have seen a substantial increase in customers. The One Network product was rolled out in phases.
When we launched the service in East Africa in September 2006, we registered an increase in the customer base the region.
We extended the service to three more markets including DR Congo and Congo-Brazzaville in 2007 to serve organisations and individual businesspeople involved cross-border trade.
When we launched it in DRC, there was a surge in customers in Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania because of these cross-border activities, especially the lake area.
People get a lot of benefit when they join the network because it allows them to keep in touch. We increased the coverage to 12 African countries during CHOGM in November 2007, recording a huge volume of new subscribers.
Last year, it was extended to Jordan, Ukraine and Iraq. The biggest milestone was when we included Saudi Arabia enabling thousands of pilgrims from Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania, who had travelled to the Holy land to communicate with their families back home.
In a week from now, we will be launching the product in Sierra Leone. Our goal is to avail the service in all the 22 countries where we operate.
Hasnâ€™t the service reduced your revenue, especially what you would have got from offering roaming service charges?
It obviously had an impact on roaming, but we believe the goal of telecom companies is a long-term one.
If you have a short-term target, you charge high rates.
we donâ€™t believe that roaming is a fair approach for mobile operators because long-term relationships with customers is more important.
Charging was okay in past 10 to 15 years when there were poor technologies and operators had to pay a lot of settlement fee for reconciliation.
Today, there are technologies to help operators avoid such huge costs. At Zain, we believe that instead of keeping money for ourselves, we should share it with our customers since we are building a relationship.
This attracts people to stay on our network as has been evidenced in this region.
Is Zain is still on course regarding expansion plans, especially with the ongoing global economic recession? Wonâ€™t people scale back on spending as the situation gets worse?
The global economic recession impacts on mobile operators and other businesses, but we have commitments to our customers, which we have to honour.
After bringing Sierra Leone on board, we shall focus on making sure all our operations in Africa are on one network in the next six months.
We donâ€™t believe that our customers should suffer for other peopleâ€™s economic errors. Of course people are going to be spending less because they have less disposable income.
Itâ€™s our job as operators to provide proper communication systems for people to stay in touch. People here donâ€™t care about what is happening in New York, they need to stay in touch.
We have to make sure people have affordable means of communication and One Network can deliver that. Another good example is what we introduced in Kenya and Tanzania last month where we allow people to transfer money to pay their utility bills and do other financial services through ZAP.
When are you launching ZAP in Uganda?
ZAP will be introduce here soon.
There is no reason to treat customers here differently from those in Kenya and Tanzania.
We have already started the process with Bank of Uganda and a couple of strategic financial partners to introduce ZAP services here.
Pending approval from the central bank, we will make sure customers get extensive services as those in Tanzania and Kenya, where we have had huge success the with service being extended daily.
There are new financial institutions joining the service, but most importantly, people will be able to send money to remote places at affordable rates.
Where do you see the telecom sector in the next five years?
I believe the telecom industry will be in convergence in the next five years.
The mobile phone as a tool will not only be used as a communication device, but for other services. Right now itâ€™s used for data and money transfer services, email or internet, while others use it to watch television.
The possibilities are endless; itâ€™s a convenient instrument in peopleâ€™s daily lives. Penetration levels in East Africa show that the mobile phone is central in peopleâ€™s lives.
The operators have an opportunity to capitalise on that. They have a chance to work with customers to deliver on their needs. This is where innovations relevant to customer needs come into play.
At Zain, we spend more money in market research to find out what customers need to make innovations relevant to their needs. How often do you see innovations like One Network in Africa copied in the world? Vodafone is planning to copy One Network, which makes us proud.
If we understand what customer needs are, the sky is the limit and ZAP and One Network testify to this. Last year, groupâ€™s customers raised more than $85,000 (sh161m) for the Nelson Mandela Foundation.
The funds will benefit charity organisations established by Nelson Mandela including the 46664, the Nelson Mandela Foundation, the Nelson Mandela Childrenâ€™s Fund and the Mandela Rhodes Foundation.
This was through a fundraising when members of the public were invited to send birthday greetings to Nelson Mandela, who was celebrating 90 years, through Short Message Service ( SMS
Zain subscribers reach 63 million after introduction of One Network