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Opinions of Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Columnist: Dowuona, Samuel

Letter to Xexemuxe - I've been asked if Glo is still alive?

Samuel Dowuona

Xexe, I have been asked if Glo still exists in a Ghana. I thought that was a bit harsh and sarcastic. A network that boasts of almost 1.5 million customers must definitely be alive. So my answer was "Glo still has a lot of Kappah (capacity). In fact they have so much kappah they they are giving some away, so why would anybody think Glo was dead, Xexe?"

Xexe for a telco that came into this market with over 1.5 million pre-registered sims reserved on its network and took off with more customers than one of the oldest players, Expresso, had Xexe, that was significant.

But I can understand the sarcasm in the question about Glo, because almost four years on and their customer base is still hovering around the same figure they started with, 1.5million or even less.

Glo took off on exactly April 30, 2012 and within three months it scooped up to six per cent market share. It started on the back of one of the most robust networks, or at least that was what they made us believe. And the takeoff value offers were juicy by all standards.

Ghanaians had to wait for three long years from the day Glo declared their intent and the day they actually launched. At the launch, the then Chief Operating Officer for Ghana, the indefatigable George Kwadwo Andah said the wait was not a waste because it gave Glo time to build a network that Ghanaians deserved. The list about the robustness of the network was long:

1. $750 million-worth world class network comprising 1,400 BTSs, the popular 2.5 terabit/sec Glo One submarine cable.
2. Network ready to accommodate 10million customers from onset
3. 2,900km of fibre optic terrestrial spread into Ghana.
4. 80% of BTSs were 3G (UMTS) from onset
5. 85% coverage of Ghana from onset
6. Service in 974 cities and 10,000 villages
7. With 1,400 BTSs, Glo claimed to be the second biggest network in the country in terms of coverage.
8. Promised to increase to 2,300 BTSs by December 2012 and become the network with the widest coverage.
9. Call centre ready to receive 200,000 calls a day

And the juicy value offerings at takeoff were also numerous:

1. 20Gp free credit for 3mins of call everyday for the first 100 days just from joining the network
2. 100% bonus on every recharge
3. Five hours free night calls for spending just 10Gp in a whole day
4. One minute bonus to call any network for every three minutes of calls received
5. One special phone number (Sweet Number) that a customer could call for only 2Gp per minute.
6. International call/SMS rates almost same as domestic tariffs
7. Service called Sharp-Sharp allowed electronic transfer of credit on the go
8. Special offers that enabled customers to have the latest news, sports, entertainment and weather updates on their Glo 128kb SIM cards.
9. Promised best quality voice and data service from EVERYWHERE in the country.

Glo's promise sounded like "MTN, Everywhere you go", which in itself is nothing more than a mere advertising claim and an aspiration by the market leader, rather than a reality for the customer. But you can understand why Glo thought that promise would work, because their boss, George Andah was the same person who largely drove the "MTN, Everywhere you go" campaign in his previous capacity as Chief Marketing Officer of MTN Ghana.

But Andah, whose outdooring as Glo Ghana COO was in itself a major news item in Ghana, did not last at the Glo Ghana top job for long. Sooner than later he was replaced with media-shy Patrick Awotwe. Then Awotwe was replaced with smiling John Vasikaran; then Vasikaran left and Awotwe came back again. And then finally Awotwe left and the man who described himself as a salesman, Akeem Kazeem came in a little over two years ago and he has remained at post since.

All this happened within just 18 months. Xexe, four changes at the very top in 18 months clearly shows signs of desperation, indecision, lost of focus and some amount of confusion at the Group head office in Nigeria, headed by the founder and chairman himself, Mike Adenuga.

Xexe, the chess Adenuga has played with the Glo Ghana top job is interesting and I am inclined to believe that is why the company would slide into such inertia, people would begin to wonder if it is still alive after all the noise and frenzy about the brand at its launch. Leadership is cause, and everything else is effect.

But what was intriguing for me was when Kazeem came in, he made one of the most ambitious declarations in his first interaction with journalists on exactly September 25, 2013 at Alisa Hotel in Accra. He said he was going to take Glo to the second largest network by subscription in 24 months. His strategy was "network infrastructural improvement and some marketing strategies".

At the time Kazeem made his famous declaration, Glo was fifth with 1.65million customers, and Vodafone was second with 6million plus customers. Obviously, he saw market leader MTN as untouchable so he had Vodafone's six million to beat. Salesman Kazeem hinged his confidence on the fact that Glo Ghana recorded its first one million customers in just one month so he was confident 24 months was more than enough to beat Vodafone's six million subs, as if Vodafone was not going to grow again.

Xexe, to cut a long story short, it has been almost 25 months since Kazeem made his historic declaration, and almost four years since Glo started in Ghana. They are still no where near second position in customer-base. In fact what they have done is rather to fall from the 1.65 million Kazeem inherited, to less 1.5 million at the last count. On the contrary, Vodafone has consolidated its second position by growing customer base to almost 7.2million over the period. In terms of market share, Glo has dropped to 4.6% and Vodafone is up to over 22%.

Xexe, every living thing grows, so I can understand why someone would ask if Glo is still alive. From day one, Glo has been ahead of only the dying CDMA player Expresso, and it still remains so. Its customer base keeps fluctuating up and down but not really moving forward.

But Kazeem was not the first to say anything about Glo's ambition to be number two in the country. Andah did say their network coverage was number two in the country. Well, I am not too sure about that either, because till date, when you check the National Communications Authority's quality of service reports, there are still loads of places where Glo has no network coverage but all the other telcos do.

All the noise about Glo in the media has died down gradually. Ahead of its official launch, Glo spread billboards and other outdoor adverts across the country promising voice quality, internet speeds and everything telecoms, plus entertainment ‘like never before’. But all that seem to have fizzled into thin air and Ghanaians are wondering, where is that bright green giant that we all looked forward to with such hope of bringing some dynamism into the market? Where are the massive entertainment events promised; where are the big brand icons paraded in front of us at the beginning?

It would appear that eventually telecoms is not all about creating a frenzy and offering juicy packages. It is about assuring customers of quality of experience at all times. The juicy value offerings are of no use on a network that boasts of a huge investment into infrastructure and technology and yet ordinary in network performance, compared to others already existing in the market.

I think Glo lost sight of the fact that their initial acceptability and brand bonding was largely on the back of their investment into what Ghanaians loved, even before they went commercial, which was sports. But moving forward, it was going to be quality of experience rather than the juicy offers and the brag about a robust network.

But the fact that people are asking about Glo and not about Expresso, for instance, is because we all recognize that Glo still has some potential to impact this market, except that the task is more Herculean now. Almost all the telcos have improved the robustness of their networks significantly, and customer-base keep growing for everyone of the 3G players, except for Glo. All the 3G guys have showed interest in the digital dividend 4G LTE spectrum except Glo.

So that brings me to my own question: would Glo survive this market or they are already thinking about merging with another player at some point? They seem to have lost the passion to break new grounds. All the other telcos responded to the request of the NCA on the digital dividend but Glo did not. At least I have not seen a response from them, and the consultation is closed.

A giant is asleep in the telecoms industry and this is my way of saying wake up Mr. giant...you have slept for too long you are now snoring and it is becoming a nuisance now.