As the newly licensed cdma and Gsm operators starts breaking ground for roll out plans, indications are very strong that their might be some displacement in the Nigerian Telecoms Race. Clear favorites and pioneers like Mtn, Celtel and Glo are poised to face stiff competition from late entrants, Etisalat, Alheri and Visafone.

Ordinarily, Visafone should not be classified as a major threat since they will operate in the CDMA range but the class of additional license(800Mhz spectrum) that was bought after taking over cellcom, places the company in good position to provide some unique services and Coupled with the speedy roll out plans and the pedigree of the chief promoter, Mr Jim Ovia.

Etisalat is a clear leader with innovative products with foot prints in the Middle East market and many years of Experience and good financial position. They are a formidable organization.

Little known Alheri is backed by Nigeria’s leading Business magnate, Alhaji Aliko Dangote. This will be his first known foray into the rewarding Nigeria Telecoms market. Despite the seemingly little dog status in the telecoms market, they possibly have what it takes to challenge the dominance of the big operators. Alheri, holds a 3G license which enables an operator to engage in more data intensive applications and the backers also have deep pockets.

Early and dominant operators provide a significant and sustained market-share advantage over later entrants. Still, later entrants can succeed by adopting distinctive positioning and marketing strategies. Experience has shown that in the Nigerian Telecoms market, innovations and financial muscles is a major factor for acquiring subscribers.

Late entrant Globalcom is an example of such innovative spirits. Pioneers in most industries, once they have reached the status of incumbent, are powerful. Sometimes, however, they get complacent or are not in a position to cater to the growing or shifting demands of the marketplace. New entrants can take advantage of gaps in the offerings of these aging pioneers, or find innovative ways to market their product or service. Globalcom was able to break into the Nigeria Telecoms market easier because other operators did not implement per second billing which should have slowed Globalcom’s race if already in place as at that time.

While it is fine to be a dominate player in a Telecommunications starved economy like Nigeria but it comes with a price of higher entry cost and product research. Late entrants do not need to go all the way anymore. It cost less to imitate a product than start from the scratch and with a penetration that is still less than 40 percent of the license under territory of 140 million people, there are still opportunities for deeper market share.

For the late entrants to quickly find their voices in the competitive Nigeria Telecoms market, they need to study the Mobile Value added services product portfolio offerings of the existing market leaders, Market environment and positioning. Some basic strategic planning for service offering and Product portfolio is for late entrants to look for new geographic (where possible) and segments for their products. Presently, most Mobile value added service offerings of Dominant operators are focused on mass and youth segment market and the chief products are entertainment based which do not offer any real life benefits in any manner.

Strategic market entry plans for Telecoms late entrants include price reduction in an existing market. By introducing a product at a lower price than Dominate Operators, a late entrant can attract new subscribers who would not have otherwise signed for the service and in effect such a product ¬¬will lead to an expansion in the total market. An operator can also subsidize low end phones to reduce entry cost for people that ordinarily that might not be able to pay a lump sum for handset or even acquire one.

Product and service innovation with focus on a niche market, can help to establish late entrants as dominant players. Companies can compete by being innovative in the marketplace. The innovation may be radical or incremental. One example of incremental innovation is an enhanced version of an existing product. The enhanced product can compete directly with existing products, or it can be positioned to attract a smaller segment of the existing market. In addition, the improved product or service can sometimes attract new subscribers that are not the current target for the existing product or service. For example, Blackberry phones are currently without international language translations for emails and Sms. All the unique selling points for Nigeria Mobile operators for BlackBerry phones is the email service while neglecting the value added on for Blackberry, that has potentials to earn data revenue, change the face of e-commerce interactions in Nigeria and also further differentiate the operators offerings of Blackberry.

Late entrants can adopt the above to make in roads into the Nigeria Market but they should also be mindful of the barrier set up of the dominant players with substantial research and development investments, being early in the market are well positioned to stifle the growth of the new entrants.

Dominant operators like the MTN,Glo and Celtel in the GSM market and starcomms, Telkom-Muiltilinks in the CDMA market had established a presence in the market place, build brand equity and created an excellent distribution network. Also, a peculiarity of telecoms industry is that the quality of service is primarily determined by coverage. Having evolved over time, the first entrant’s(MTN) network usually has much better coverage. The customers become used to enhanced coverage over time. So new entrants have to invest significantly to achieve this same coverage, an effort that is capital intensive and time consuming. All new networks have initial bugs that take time to fix. Subscribers are just not willing to go through another learning curve, when there is already a robust supplier of service. Another frequent constraint is access to property to build the towers, since the first entrants have already seized the ideal sites for coverage but Visafone will be leveraging on the extensive branch infrastructure of Zenith Bank to roll out while Alheri and Etisalat can opt for Co-location services of Helios Towers. But in the absence of these bail outs, the late entrants may require to invest larger amounts in network infrastructure to gain similar coverage. Given these hurdles, it can take two to three years before a challenger achieves coverage competitive with the incumbent’s.

In addition to coverage and related quality of service, another huge barrier to entry for new entrants is the issue of number portability. The NCC has been making efforts and educating the dominate operators on number portability since they will most likely serve as the donor network while the late entrant will most likely be the recipient network. The success of number portability depends on the ability of the donor network to perfect the processing of the subscriber in a turn around time or hence the subscriber becomes frustrated while attempting to join another network while keeping his number.

The inherent advantages to being first in the Nigerian telecoms market are control of ideal sites; freedom to evolve and fine-tune network coverage; building of brand loyalty by offering superior customer service; locking in customers by subsidizing equipment for an extended period under fixed-service contracts, and gaining control of key channels of distribution.

Late entrants do also have its own advantages if they are able to learn from the pit falls of the dominate operators in offering a superior level of customer service, deploying new technology, so that a new entrant can offer similar or better service at a lower cost, the new entrant may also develop a new way to access the market, with an innovative distribution strategy and may simply be pricing aggressively, targeting selected segments by taking advantage of the incumbent’s tendency to average pricing across all segments.
While the dominant operators do have their own advantages, so do the late entrants. They are coming with latest technology and more knowledgeable about the end-user experiences of that particular market. Examples abound of Telecoms operators that moved from late entrant position to dominant players by getting it right. Orange, successfully established its self as a dominant player from a late entrant in the British Market and Globalcom, did same too in the Nigerian Market.

I wish Visafone,Alheri,Etisalat and Nigomsat (If eventually awarded a license) an interesting journey into the fastest growing telecoms market in Africa!

Emmanuel Okoegwale
Mobile Content Broker
[email protected]


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