As the world celebrates the Chinese New Year (year 4709 for those keeping track), we transition from the Year of the Rabbit to the Year of the Dragon. As defined by Chinese astrology, those years designated as Rabbits are peaceful and quiet, but the Dragon represents disruption, transformation and change. While the markets globally, and Asia is no exception, have been anything but peaceful and quiet; the telecom industry in Asia continued to hum along in 2011. There was a lot of construction of both fixed and mobile network infrastructure, the usual buffet of new device offerings, and lots of new customers brought online – but there wasn’t much business transformation. Operators didn’t change much and neither did their business models. They certainly talked about it and talked about it and talked about it some more but nothing much changed and we all know that this industry must absolutely change. Or do we?
Maybe the telecom industry in Asia has already transformed. Asian countries now lead the world in numerous coverage and quality metrics. In many Asian markets that is due to nationalized or common carrier infrastructure ownership. Thailand, Singapore, the Philippines, Australia and New Zealand are rolling out national broadband networks and broadband penetration rates exceed or will exceed 75%. Wireless penetration in those countries exceeds 100% and ARPU is rising. Figures are similar for Hong Kong, China and Taiwan where network infrastructure is operated by common carriers. By comparison, Canada ranks 10th and the US 15th (65%) in broadband penetration per 100 inhabitants, behind a number of European and Asian countries and regularly rank lower in affordability.
But there is more at stake than infrastructure! Asian operators have been so busy building networks and adding customers, they haven’t had a chance to address the business and how best to manage all of this growth and their customers. What we’re seeing now is not technically transformation but the next step in building a modern communications retailer. Without the burden of network infrastructure, operators can focus on delivering unique and useful products while providing unmatched support. That being the case, then 2012 is a good time to be a dragon. Unlike the scary, threatening dragons of European and Western literature, Asian dragons are doers; they get things done and achieve success using leadership and wisdom. In 2012 dragon operators will excel at implementing processes and systems that better serve their customers while reducing operational cost and complexity. Asian dragons should aim to lead the world in delivery of customer-focused products and customer-friendly support before the regulators force them.
Beyond laying cable and building cell sites, there is a business to run and that business will succeed or fail based on the variety of products being offered and the quality of support that customers receive. In 2012 Dragon operators must build trust along with their networks so that business customers, not just consumers, see the value in connected devices and believe that they can be reliably delivered and supported. It’s time for the discussion to stop and the work to start because up next is the Year of the Snake and we all know what happens when they get riled up.
Gong Xi Fa Cai (Happy New Year)!