‘The enabler of the digital era’
GO CEO Nikhil Patil speaks to Anthony Manduca about the company’s way forward and his vision for the future.
Nikhil Patil’s vision for GO is to deliver an “unmatched, multi-play experience for its valued customers”.
The telecoms company CEO says GO wants “to be the enabler of the digital era”.
He tells The Sunday Times of Malta: “We are already ahead on a number of initiatives that are bearing fruit. To start off with, we have seen marked improvements in our call centre and other customer touchpoints. The recent launch of our mobile App is another step forward in bringing to life our ‘digital enabler in the home’ ambition.”
Mr Patil says GO’s products also embody this vision with 100Mbps broadband connections and up to 60GB of mobile data all in the space of a couple of weeks, totally simplifying the product portfolio.
“On the business front, we have revamped our products, offering the best packages for SMEs and we continue to service the government and large enterprises with state-of-the-art technologies. In a nutshell, we want to continue simplifying and innovating in what we do best – connecting people to what matters.”
Continued revenue growth, he says, is essential for the telecoms industry to be able to sustain heavy investment in new and future technologies.
“With the commoditisation of telecom services, revenue growth is becoming more challenging, also because of increasing competition from OTT services that enjoy far more flexible regulatory and taxation conditions,” he points out.
In a scenario where growth in telcos’ core business is under pressure, Mr Patil says the industry has to find new ways of monetising its huge investments and to deliver returns on very large future investments in areas such as 5G.
“Today, everyone uses telecom services, but not everyone is prepared to pay the right economic price for them. Telcos thus sometimes have to invest time to cater for more extensive use of their services – such as broadband, to give an example – with little, to no extra returns. The major challenge here is for telcos to claim a larger share of the pie created by their investments, rather than leaving the market to OTT services.”
Regarding GO’s opposition to the proposed merger between Melita and Vodafone, he says GO was just one of many voices expressing opposition to this.
“The feel at the time was of a public concern with the possible effects of the takeover and the impact on competition. The Consumers’ Association was articulate in its concern about the loss of competition that the takeover could bring about. In the end, the takeover was called off as Melita and Vodafone could not meet the remedies requested by the Office for Competition within the MCCAA to address the competition concerns that would have been created by the new entity, and I quote, ‘dominant player within a duopolistic set-up’.”
Asked if he was worried about the encroachment of OTT competitors such as VOIP, OTT Television, Facebook and WhatsApp, he says that throughout its history GO has faced many challenges and yet it has continued to thrive.
“It has been able to do this through careful market analysis and its ability to adapt. Competition from OTT is a phenomenon that has been with the telecoms industry for some years now, and many operators have been feeling the pressure from players that use telecom infrastructure, often for free, to compete with the telcos’ own retail services. In truth, such competition helps to keep us on our toes and to be more innovative and focused on delivering the best service to our customers.”
Probably this year’s milestone was the unprecedented agreement to allow use of GO’s fibre network to other competitors’ customers – testament to the power and the capabilities of GO’s network
Technology, he says, is “our bread and butter” and GO has always embraced these technologies by trying to find ways to work alongside them rather than against them.
“Nevertheless, we feel that more can be done to ensure that telcos like us can compete on a level playing field with OTT players. Their size, nationality and operating model means that they are normally not subject to the same legal and regulatory restrictions as operators like GO and they also do not pay taxes in most countries where they compete with local operators.”
Regarding plans for the company’s growth he says “FTTH roll-out” (the installation and use of optical fibre from a central point directly to individual buildings) is certainly high on GO’s agenda.
“By extending this network, we will be in a better position to deliver innovative, value-adding services to our customers, over the best, and only true-fibre network in Malta. All this requires investment, and GO has been exemplary in its investment over the years. Investment and innovation are critical factors for growth.”
He also points out that it is essential to remain innovative when seeking other revenue streams if GO is to continue on its successful growth path. He stresses that the company always found ways of growing its business. Back in 2006, it acquired TV, now a core part of its service offerings. In 2009 it acquired BMIT, followed by Cablenet, a cable company based in Cyprus, in 2014. Kinetix was then acquired in 2015.
“All of these acquisitions have contributed to GO’s success, and I have no doubt that we will remain on this positive trajectory, where we shall continue to deliver value to our customers, and healthy returns to our shareholders. I am excited about the future, which is as bright as it is challenging.”
The CEO says GO has a good track record of investing in start-ups and scaling them into large players. A prime example of this is BMIT, which GO grew, and which is now being listed through an IPO.
“GO now wants to also start investing in early tech stage start-ups, preferably with a connection to Malta, to continue developing our near core business and to help foster a Maltese ecosystem of investment in innovation. Since we announced the start-up fund during the Delta Summit this October, we have been very pleasantly surprised with the feedback we received, even if we are officially launching early next year. We are actively following up on the pitches we received and are talking to a few interesting prospects. We aim to start building our investment portfolio with a number of initial investments during the course of 2019.”
Asked what improvements in GO’s networks should customers expect over the coming months, he recalls “one of the greatest milestones” achieved this year vis-à-vis their networks, saying GO reached “an unprecedented agreement which allows another operator to use GO’s fibre network to offer broadband services to its customers”.
He says this is the ultimate testimony to the power and capabilities of GO’s network and disposition to act as enablers of business opportunities. “Networks need to be maintained, so it goes without saying that we shall continue to invest in this regard to ensure that we can continue to deliver cutting-edge technology to our customers and helping them stay connected to the services and content they love, at great speeds,” he points out.
He says that besides the plans for the roll-out of fibre, the improvements in the networks are also reflected in the products recently launched, where GO is providing far greater broadband speeds, increased mobile data allowances and overall greater value to customers.
“Our plans don’t stop here. At GO, we place the customer at the centre of everything we do, and we want to ensure that our customers have the best experience possible. Our networks, as well as our people, are the driving force behind this.”
GO’s CEO says that when it comes to customers’ experience no differentiation is made between residential and busi-ness customers.
“Each and every customer is a valued customer and just as we have put in every effort to simplify and improve our residential product portfolio, over the past months we have revisited our business products and revamped these to increase the bundle offering and its value to our business clients.
“We expect more service bundling and further rationalisation of the product portfolio in the coming months. One major change is related to our roaming model. We want our customers to be able to use our services whenever they need them, wherever they are, without any hindrance or cost concerns. We are looking at an interesting concept that will totally transform the way business and their employees work and collaborate but, enough said on this. Time will reveal all,” he says, without giving more details.
Mr Patil is “absolutely” satisfied with the company’s results for 2018, saying it has been eight exciting months since he took this position.
“We have reached our targets, even exceeded some. But perhaps a bigger source of satisfaction lies in the way my team comes together and really drives forward to achieve the targets we are after. At GO, our work is a collective effort.
“Our activities are carried out by a formidable team of professionals where every person’s input is crucial to the success of the company. The results are showing in the way customers, both residential and business, are responding to our work. Therein lies the real value.”