Jean-François Thomas, CEO of Orange Jordan, was clearly a man in demand at last month’s Arab Advisors’ Convergence Summit in Jordan. At every turn he was stopped by colleagues and industry peers eager to hear his insights on Jordan’s telecoms sector. This was perhaps not surprising given Orange Jordan’s ambitious investments plans and Thomas’s strong views on a slew of issues, from regulation to the high taxes imposed on Jordan’s telco sector.
“Here in Jordan, the government, as a regulator, has a bad trend to price the spectrum very high. They want to get the benefit and we paid a lot for the licenses, for 4G and the renewal of 2G. I think it is not a good way for the government to try to get the money [from the telecommunications sector]. The business should not monetise like this, as it doesn’t allow operators to develop the market. I am always afraid that some minister is going to come with an idea of a new tax,” he said to CommsMEA.
The Arab Advisors Group and GSMA published different research pointing out that Jordan has the most expensive spectrum acquisition fees. According to the consulting group, setting frequency fees at very high costs would hurt the prospects for future investments in the sector.
Thomas shares this opinion and he believes that the Internet of Things in future will be linked to the decisions that the Jordanian government makes on the telecoms sector. Orange Jordan will value the different opportunities in the market and Thomas forecasts that health, education and smart cities will be the sectors that will drive growth in the country.
“I am sure that we will start by opportunities. We need to create opportunities and work with the strength of the group to create these opportunities. We are working with Amman municipalities to develop their traffic lights. We have a good offer of B2C video monitoring. We are providing the cameras, we are storing the content and data in our data centre.”
Orange Jordan will invest more than JD300 million between 2015 and 2018 to upgrade networks and high-speed Internet. Of the total, some JD200 million will be invested in fixed and mobile network infrastructure, Thomas said. “There is a growing demand for data in Jordan, where more than half of the population own smartphones,” he added.
“Telcos need to invest in networks to accommodate the growth in data demand; therefore, focusing on providing quality service is a main drive to increase telcos’ growth,” he said.
He is also concerned about over-regulation in Jordan in the security arena when developing Internet of Things. “My fear is about over-regulation. In Europe and the US, customers are very sensitive, not only about security, but about privacy too. Here in Jordan, it is not the case,” he said.
“People don’t care that much [about security and privacy]. We are in a part of the world where you have enemies around and you have to tell the government a little bit of what you are doing because it is basically good for you [company]. The message for the regulator was to avoid overregulation on these privacy issues,” Thomas added.
He added that many citizens in Jordan lack awareness of the value of personal data held by the operators, and stressed that the issue is less sensitive than in Western countries, such as the US and UK.
Thomas added that, like other global operators, Orange holds data about its customers and is careful to respect privacy. “At the group level we are very careful because we have a lot of data from our customers. We signed some conditions at a group level,” Thomas said.
“We may sell anonymised sets, but we will not identify a specific customer,” he added.
With a strategy in place and the aim to upgrade networks and high-speed Internet, Thomas believes that the Jordanian market is ready to embrace 4G. However, in Jordan, operators are facing an added challenge, as the government doubled taxes on mobile phones from 8% to 16% and from 12% to 24% on mobile subscriptions, meaning the consumer is spending less on telecoms, as the industry and the GSMA revealed.
“I changed my mind about 4G. Initially I thought that is was too early for Jordan to start selling frequencies and starting rolling out the network. Our competitors didn’t have this approach and they started rolling out the network. We decided to go for it. At the beginning I was not convinced,” he said to CommsMEA.
Thomas explained that there are 6% to 7% penetration of 4G devices in the Jordanian market, but he highlights that there is an interest for this new technology in Jordan. “Of course, we need to educate the market, it is part of our role to do so and communicate the possibilities and what can be done and achieved,” he added.
“The 4G experience is very different and it provides a better customer experience. Apps require more speed and data and 4G offers that. We now have cheaper devices in the market and we are offering 4G smartphones for JD85 ($120). We price them very carefully and we have promotions offers to promote 4G.”
He is aware of the need of OTT players when driving data growth and he believes that a blocking approach will only delay a solution for operators.
“They [OTTs] are driving the growth, so I consider them a complement for operators. We didn’t invent YouTube or WhatsApp. Operators could have invented it, but we didn’t because we had the legacy business of the SMS. They are driving the data, especially the video apps nowadays,” Thomas said.
“We are building networks for our customers, so it is up to us to price in the right way so that we manage to get part of the business. The regulation that some countries are adopting when blocking them, it is just slowing the process, because at the end of the day we need to find a solution. We are impacted, because traditional SMS business was eaten by WhatsApp and the voice services by Skype, for example. We are offering bundles with voice, SMS and data. We want the customer to keep on buying our services. We already are changing them, as we have stopped counting the minute by the minute or SMS by SMS,” he added.
In May, Orange Jordan presented its “Essentials 2020”, its strategy to follow till 2020. The strategy will focus on developing high-speed broadband, improving mobile quality services and working on modernising networks.
The operator will leverage on five main drivers: offering richer connectivity options; re-inventing the customer relationship, building a people-oriented and digital employer business model; accompanying the transformation of enterprise customers; and diversifying its operations by effectively capitalising on its assets. All of this will be achieved within a business model that is efficient, responsible and digitally proficient, according to Thomas.