Kamar Abass is the Managing Director of Ericsson Nigeria and Head of Regional Accounts for Ericsson in Sub-Saharan Africa. He joined Ericsson in August 2008 to lead Marketing & Business Development across one of Ericsson’s largest global customer accounts. In May 2009, he took on the additional responsibility for Global Services sales and delivery across this account. In these roles, Kamar led successful Mobile Broadband campaigns, which helped operators to justify and optimize incremental WCDMA coverage and capacity investments. In addition, Kamar was instrumental in helping operators to boost their cost-efficiency, through the transformation of key Technology Operations functions, using Ericsson’s industry-leading Services portfolio.
With more than 20 years’ experience in the ICT industry, Kamar has wide international experience. Prior to joining Ericsson he held positions in business development, sales and product management at Vodafone Group plc, FirstMark Communications (a pan-European fixed wireless start-up) and BT plc. Kamar also worked as a management consultant with PriceWaterhouseCoopers LLP and Buchanan & Partners. Kamar holds a bachelor’s degree in Civil Engineering, from the University of Lagos, and an MBA from Cranfield University’s School of Management. In this interview with Akin Naphtal, Abass speaks on Ericsson’s vision of a Networked Society, ICT in the Sub Sahara, Ericsson relevance and much more. Excerpts…
What is your perception of the ICT sector in the Sub Saharan region?
The ICT sector in the Sub Saharan region reminds me of the U.K and to an extent, the Western Europe of about three or four years ago. Though the market is approaching effective saturation, we are a little behind the curve in terms of network build-out. There are also some interesting choices about vendors dominated predominantly by cost perceptions and increasing concerns about regulatory stability and intervention. These are the sort of things that I can see here at this level of, dare I say, maturity in this country that I compare to U.K three or four years ago. So it seems to me that my experience in Europe is quite relevant to where we are today and I’m hoping that it won’t take three of four years to address those to a happy resolution.
How has Africa benefited from The Networked Society, considering the almost non existing connectivity infrastructures in the hinterlands?
The Networked Society is really a message about the ultimate destination for people, business and society. There are some objectives about where you get to in terms of total number of connections and cells, but the sense of it is that connectivity, between things, and where it is able to add value, will exist. So I feel that, anything we are doing with operators to make their networks bigger, cover bigger domains, deepen capacity, support the way in which that capacity is taken off the base stations and delivered in a seamless fashion is helping to deliver the Networked Society. But I also think the priority in Nigeria today specifically, is to give decent levels of coverage, enough capacity to deal with hotspots, and to service the demands in local locations and deliver consistency around that. And we know what the challenges are, they relate to energy, being able to keep the base stations working, off-grid; transmission infrastructure, securing the last mile, presently transmission in some weather situations is not ideal. Also, fibre is expensive and complex to put in the ground. So we are working with operators to get there.
What are the plans for Ericsson to remain relevant and retain a considerable chunk of the market share?
We focus on our customers and will continue to focus on our customers. Competition is a fact of life; it keeps us sharp. However, our efforts are focused on delivering value to our customers and supporting them in overcoming their challenges. We do this by developing creative business models, and suggesting innovative ways for them to invest in assets and manage their businesses in addition to deploying innovative solutions.
We play to our strengths which are innovation and technology leadership, and will simply not compromise on this. We are leaders and we maintain that position through enormous investments.
What are the factors that can enhance network performance?
Network performance is about the customer’s experience, and my real desire is to bring the customer experience to the fore of the discussion. If we talk about the customer experience, then the question becomes ‘what are customers predominantly doing with their mobile phones?’ Yes, there is a lot of voice, but voice is relatively easy to manage on the network; when you are talking about data, it is a completely different proposition.
Customers are downloading applications (Apps) off the web in real time. Those Apps are chatting to the network all the time, it doesn’t matter whether the consumer is using the App or not. With your phone turned on, Apps are connecting, sending data and signalling information.
The curious thing is that when a piece of data is sent through the network, there is a notification of the departure, and when the data gets to the end; it sends a message back saying ‘received’. If the data loses its way half way through, then the phone sends a request saying “hello, have you got me?” and keeps repeating this process, utilizing network resources. As signalling increases, it crowds out the space for the actual data and networks just fall over.
This happened in the U.K. when the iPhone was launched in 2007, people didn’t really understand how smartphones work and how all the new applications would affect network performance and capacity.
In the near future Nigerian operator’s networks will carry significantly more data traffic than voice traffic, at that point issues surrounding network performance become more complicated.
In many Ericsson presentations, the statistics do not reflect Nigerian usage of Mobile broadband don’t you think it is necessary to conduct a primary research?
Ericsson ConsumerLab studies people’s behaviours and values, and provides insights on global market and consumer trends. We have regular studies to collect data from more than 40 countries and 15 megacities every year.
Nigeria has been covered regularly the last few years. However, not all reports and insights are published externally.
What are your personal views to the ICT business?
I am pleased about joining Ericsson Nigeria. Of course, I have been with Ericsson for four years and am not new to the company, nor am I new to the country. I come with real depth on the commercial side of telecoms, so I see things in those terms.
My sense is that we need to think more about telecoms in commercial terms. We need to be thinking: what is the experience of customers? and what are the cost, and revenue characteristics of that equation in relation to that customer experience. I think that we should be able to show our customers, the operators, how it is that an investment in technology improves not just their network, but their investment yields and how that translates to value for their shareholders. That is how we should help them think about these things.
How are you adapting to your new role?
I have been well supported by the team on the ground here. I have had several sessions with staff and customers especially in Lagos to begin with. They have been very helpful in telling me what they see as the fundamental issues, opportunities, weaknesses and the threats that confront us. And I am trying to use that to shape my agenda for the first three or four months in terms of what I am going to address, and what I am going to consider to be a success and what not.
I am also trying to gain insights into how we can lift our sales and further increase customer satisfaction, because at the end of the day, that is the most important measure for me.