Feature Article of Friday, 13 July 2012
Columnist: Dowuona, Samuel Nii Narku
Within just 32 days of operations in Ghana, Glo Mobile has already knocked out its first victim, the only CDMA player, Expresso. But that was to be expected. With the CDMA operator behind it, Glo is now heading for the real competition, which lies with the GSM operators.
Glo launched on April 29, 2012 and as at May 31, 2012, it recorded a total of 468,508 subscribers, according to the mobile subscriber base league table from the National Communication Authority.
The figure is even conservative, but it is already two per cent of the total number of mobile subscriptions in the country, which stood at 22,453,907; and almost 140% more than Expresso’s 195,670 subscribers.
Before Glo launched commercial service in Ghana, the bosses of the four GSM networks, MTN, Vodafone, Tigo and Airtel, could not hide their concerns about the threat Glo posed to revenue and subscriber base, even though they (the telecom bosses) also wondered how Glo could be profitable in the long-term, in a competitive market such as Ghana’s, with as many as five multinational players.
Some of them actually predicted that Glo’s coming into the market, would make consolidation an inevitable option for survival for some of the players. Indeed some dared to predict that within a couple of years, the number of telecom operators in Ghana would grind to four, because the market would be very unfriendly to at least two, which would either fold up completely, or merge with stronger brands.
Indeed, some industry regulatory officials have also said they foresee the industry having a maximum of four players with a matter of a couple of years. But no one is able to stick out their necks and say which brands are likely to get lost on the market by either merging with others or folding up completely. Let’s leave it at that.
But whichever network each of self-nominated industry prophets had in mind, they all agreed that the sixth operator is here to eat into all of their accounts, as far as revenue and subscriber base is concerned. On the subscriber base side, the players comfort themselves with the existence multi-simming in Ghana. Multi-simming is simply the ownership of more than one SIM by one person.
It is very common to find people, particularly in the urban communities in Ghana, who own at least two active SIMs; some even own three to four SIMs. But more often than not, one SIM is more active than the rest, and the user tend to spend more money using that one SIM which bears the number he or she is mostly identified with.
But with the benefit of Mobile Number Portability, people are now free to port their preferred phone numbers fully to any network of their choice, even though a relatively very small number of phone users have ported their numbers so far.
The foregoing, plus the fact that Glo launched with 85% nationwide coverage, on the back of its privately-owned Glo One submarine fibre backbone, and also starting with some of the juiciest offers the industry could offer, put some shivers down the spines of other players on the market.
The other thing that worked for Glo was the general call for a savior from the relatively poor quality of telecom service across board. Subscribers across networks have been complaining constantly about a litany of quality of service breaches, and the telcos have been explaining that those challenges are largely due to no fault of theirs. But the subscriber does not care whose fault it is, he or she wants a certain level of quality of service, and that is enough motivation to move to the next available network.
Glo saw the opportunity and threw very ambitious promises out there, long before its commercial launch. The company promised everything telecom and broadband ‘like never before’ (even though no one is still sure what that means). That may have largely contributed to the resounding success of its prelaunch number reservation campaign, in which a record 1.5 million Ghanaians reserved special Glo numbers long before the launch.
Now Glo is here, and it has started living the fear of the telco bosses; it has started eating real fast. Even though not all of the 1.5 million reserved numbers have been activated, Glo has already knocked out victim number one in just one month of commercial operations in Ghana.
COMPARING THE FIGURES It is important to note that whereas the subscriber base figures reported in for Glo in May covered the period between April 29 and May 31, 2012, those for the five other networks covered a period of two months, from March 31 – May 31, 2012.
So in just one month, Glo clocked 468,508 subscribers; whereas in two months market leader MTN added on 250,441 subscribers; Vodafone added on 147,961; Airtel added on 118,422.
Tigo, on the other hand dropped 184,802 subscribers within the two-month period from March 31 – May 31, 2012; while Expresso also dropped 8,753 subscribers between April 30 and May 31, 2012.
These figures reveal a number of things; firstly, that Airtel is not the fastest growing network by subscribers as it has always claimed, because MTN grew by almost two times the number Airtel added on, and Vodafone also added on more subscribers than Airtel. But in percentage terms Vodafone’s growth is 3.27% over that of March, and Airtel’s is 4.1%, which is obviously the highest growth rate, but not necessarily the highest in terms of actual figures.
Obviously none of the three that had positive growth, MTN, Airtel and Vodafone, could match Glo’s one month growth even with their growth over a two-month period. Glo’s 468,508 for one month is 87% higher than what MTN added on in two months; 216.6% more than what Vodafone added in two months; and 295.6% more than what Airtel added on in two months.
There is no need doing a comparative analysis of the figures from Tigo and Expresso with that of Glo because each of the two actually had negative growth over the period in question, and so the picture from there is clear.
The analysis could be taken further to find out by what figures and at what rate each telco grew the month before Glo launched commercial service in Ghana. This would give pointers as to which telco may have suffered the biggest blow within the period Glo has been here. Once again, it is obvious Tigo and Expresso had negative growth each, but it would be interesting to find out whether their dip was stiffer or otherwise in May.
For the month of April, market leader MTN grew by 124,218 subscribers, and grew by a marginally higher figure of 126,223 subscribers for the month of May, with Glo was on the market; Vodafone also grew by 52,346 subscribers in April, and by 95,961 in May, post Glo’s launch; similarly, Airtel also added on 41,031 subscribers a month before Glo’s launch, and almost doubled the growth rate to 77,391 the first month of post Glo’s launch.
But the story is again different for Tigo and Expresso. The two actually recorded their biggest losses of the year within the one month that Glo has been operational in Ghana. Tigo lost 74,135 in April, but lost 110,667 subscribers in May, which is its biggest loss in a month for the year so far.
Expresso had also gained some 2,109 in April, which was a reverse from its consistent drop in subscriber base, but saw its biggest loss for the year at 8,753 in the month of May alone.
A sum of the losses incurred by the two networks comes to 119,420, which is three times less than what Glo clocked in one month. But there is no guarantee all those subscribers, who may have left those two networks, left for Glo. Some may have just gone inactive, and others may have moved to other networks. But that does not change the fact that both Tigo and Expresso saw their biggest losses of the year only when Glo launched.
But it is early days yet, and no conclusion can be drawn as yet as to whether those same two would keep experiencing heavy losses as a result of the sixth player’s presence. Would the other three become victims along the way, and would Glo sustain its growth or lose its grip at some point? Already, there is information that Glo has actually registered more than the figure reported in May, and the half year report from the NCA is likely to show that. Glo itself has promised to publish some figures after hundred clear days of operations in Ghana.
Obviously the competition is put, and it would only take players with the best of the best quality of service, offering greatest experience and value for money as opposed to irrelevant promotions and services, to win. The days of giving time-bound bonuses, unproven promises of supersonic broadband speeds, complex voice and date promotions, high tariffs, sloppy data packages, and the like, are fast going over, and each telco, including Glo, had better risen to the occasion or have itself to blame. Indeed, not everyone who activated their Glo numbers had a great experience from the onset, but Glo has said that would get better when the network is fully optimized within the 100 days it gave itself. Its ability to maintain the momentum or lose the grip is dependent on the fulfillment or otherwise of this promise; and the clock is ticking.
Samuel Nii Narku Dowuona