There is a tremendous hunger for cheap, dependable, convenient broadband
Telecom’s mobile subsidiary, TN Mobile has been struggling to make any impression in the local market for one very obvious reason. The competition, MTC, in 2014 claimed that it has passed the one million user mark.. And there are only so many potential users.
When I disputed the veracity of this claim, MTC offered all sorts of explanations citing dual telephony, company contracts for employees, and what not, to defend their one million claim. Be that as it may, according to my estimate there are probably between 600,000 and 700,000 current, live mobile users. MTC may have sold a million numbers, but certainly not to a million people. Over the course of the past years many of those numbers have become dormant, a fact reflected by the issuing of new numbers fairly low in the sequential number range.
Still, MTC is the big dog and it enjoys a massive majority in the mobile market. This position will not be threatened easily. The introduces the question: Where will TN Mobile find new users to entice to their network and what range of products will they offer, at what price?
I believe I have stumbled onto a possible answer during the past two and a half months.
TN Mobile must set it sights on mobile broadband and by this I mean much more aggressively than what they attempt with their 4G offering. There is such a hunger for broadband from all segments of the Namibian population and this includes corporate entities.
Early in November I applied for an ADSL line at my house. This entails the installation of a router and switching the normal landline to an ADSL line. This part of the equation happens at the exchange and is not dependent on the actual installation. For this privilege I waited until a week ago, in other words just over two months. It was eventually done on a Saturday, for which I am eternally grateful to Telecom.
Every time I queried the progress on my application I was told it is somewhere in process. When I became adamant, I was politely informed that their technicians are snowed under with ADSL applications and that they are trying their level best to catch up with the very big backlog. This is the clearest indication that the demand far outstrips the supply, but that only applies to landline conversions. My experience tells nothing about mobile broadband.
Last year I tried the 4G USB modem option but found this cumbersome, especially the fact that both operators are focussing on pre-paid, neglecting account holders. It is inconvenient to go get a top-up voucher twice a week, and then go through the protracted activation to turn the airtime credit into data credit.
When it became clear how huge the demand for broadband is, it also triggered my mind.
The market TN Mobile must target is the potential new market for broadband. It must be very substantial judging from my own experience. Let MTC reign supreme in the conventional mobile market but focus on the hundreds of thousands of people who need fast, reliable, affordable broadband connectivity on the go. This way, TN Mobile can establish itself as the broadband provider of choice.
There are many other potential benefits. TN Mobile can leverage their existing landline monopoly, offering single account functionality for existing users. TN Mobile can extend their data services so that it includes roaming, secure connection, encryption and a host of other convenient features for which the so-called Fritz Box simply does not have the power, nor the 4G option.
And seeing that it has the machinery in place to manage and administrate a very large accounting system, it should focus on post-paid and not on prepaid.
Essentially, the success of a shift in focus will revolve around costs. By targeting mobile broadband for account holders, they can work up the numbers, leading to broadband costs that come down and continue to do so, as the client base expands, until we get to the point where broadband becomes remotely affordable, even compared to first world markets.
This is not an overnight process. It took MTC many years to established themselves in what was essentially a statutory monopoly at the beginning. Still, with a new focus, new technology and new prices, TN Mobile can eventually carve out for itself more than just a niche. It can become the dominant player in this segment, and then the government will have very little motivation to remain the majority shareholder of MTC.