Orange Jordan: Essentials 2020

Orange Jordan CEO Jean-Francois Thomas has just unveiled a far-reaching strategic plan that lays out the company’s vision for the telco sector over the coming five years, with a core focus on the customer.

Through Essentials 2020, Orange Jordan aims to vastly improve the customer experience by pumping hundreds of millions of dinars into its fixed and wireless networks by the end of the decade. This process already began with the telco’s recent introduction of 4G, and Thomas said both private and enterprise customers should expect other major developments and announcements soon.

Orange Jordan, along with the rest of the Kingdom’s telco industry, has been through a tough few years; mobile communication apps have shaken up business models, while relations with the government have been strained as margins were squeezed by ever higher taxes and operating costs. At one point, some even began to wonder if Orange even saw a future for itself in Jordan. Thomas hopes to use Essentials 2020 to turn a page on all the past uncertainty, and reaffirm his company’s desire to be at the heart of the Jordanian market.

What are the main ideas behind Essentials 2020?

Every five years we have an exercise in strategic planning at a group level, as it’s absolutely necessary to know where we are going. Our group CEO Stephane Richard wanted to share our vision with the stakeholders, which include financial analysts, the media, our partners, our staff, and our customers. So on March 17 at a major event in Paris, he unveiled our Essentials 2020 strategic plan. As the name suggests, the strategy reflects our commitment to connect people with all that is essential to them.

We want to offer an unmatched customer experience. The telecom sector has often got by on just being good enough. We want to get out of that zone. Putting the strategy in front of everybody is also a way pushing everyone internally to deliver. We made the bet that if we manage to be the best in terms of overall customer experience, then our existing customers will remain with us and new customers will come on board.

A major pillar of the strategy is offering enriched connectivity. We’re going back to the basics in terms of being able to offer the customer the best possible connectivity. Over the next five years, we plan to spend more than JD300 million on developing our networks on the fixed side and on the mobile side. This amount is roughly 50 percent more than we have typically invested over a similar period in the past.

There was talk that you were pulling out of the market. What message do you hope to send with this investment?

There’s an old saying that I like which goes: “The ships are safe in harbor.” But that’s not what ships are made for. If we want to be part of the game we can’t sit on the fence. We have to invest more in our networks because we believe this is the only way we can provide a better customer experience. Either we disappear, or we survive. The only way to survive is to improve significantly the customer experience and gain market share by converting new customers to our services.

What is this money going to be invested in?

Last month’s introduction of 4G services was a real milestone for us. We think this country deserves 4G and we couldn’t just leave Jordanians with one choice of provider. We bought frequencies in the 1800 MHz spectrum and selected Huawei to build the new network. Today, we are covering most of Amman. The rollout will be extremely rapid, with nationwide coverage by the end of Q3. What’s more, we’re using part of our existing 900 MHz band to boost our 3G services, which is where most customers will likely remain for the immediate future.

What will demand be like for 4G?

It’s difficult to say. But I believe that anybody with a 4G compatible handset will try and go for 4G. The experience is totally different. It’s like if you buy a Ferrari and just drive it on little country roads. If you have a Samsung S6 or an iPhone 6, you will want to take the full advantage of its capabilities.

What’s happening with your fiber network?

We’re also massively boosting our roll out with more outdoor DSLAMS (). Without getting too technical, they’re basically outdoor cabinets that give people living within a 2 to 3 kilometer radius access to faster ADSL bandwidth and a fiber experience offering Internet speeds of up to 80 megabits.

At one point in time, we were asking ourselves if we should go fully wireless and abandon the unique asset we have in the form of our copper wire network. We decided to develop both tracks. Today, our fixed broadband network continues to be immensely successful. We have been broadening our customer base and increasing our Internet speeds. If you live in a household with multiple devices and want to stream Internet via a big screen TV, fiber is still the best solution. We will be the only ones to provide this convergence. We will not go fixed everywhere in the country –we will have to make choices. But in major cities and major urban areas, we can go with both.

Also, in the next five years, we will go all IP. This means all our legacy telecom switches, which have been there for 25 to 30 years, will be replaced. They’re still working perfectly, but they’re consuming a lot of power and it’s getting harder and more expensive to maintain the outdated technology. Full IP means we’ll be able to offer new services and better convergence.

What about improving customer service?

We have multiple contact points with our customers. The management of these contact points is complex. We used to have a call center for fixed and another for mobile. By the end of the year, we’ll have all our call centers in one building. We are doing this due to the launch of our conversion offers, where we package together our services. Today, we can bundle together fixed line, the Internet, and post-paid mobile subscriptions. We’re also aiming to include the prepaid offers in the near future.

We have launched an app called “My Orange,” which allows people to manage different elements of their subscriptions through their smartphones. This app has already been downloaded about 50,000 times. I won’t go so far as to say the PC is dead, but people are now interacting on their smartphones like never before. Unlike apps developed by our competitors, real transactions can be carried out on ours. You can upgrade, buy bundles, buy data, and access information about your account. We’re aiming to have 50 percent of our transactions with our customers done online.

What about enterprise services?

Technology is quickly disrupting business models everywhere. The taxi industry, for example, has been totally disrupted in a matter of a couple of years by Uber. Why? The reason is that everyone has a smartphone in their pocket, which is changing the relationship between the taxi and the customer. I recently met with the CEO of one of Jordan’s major banks, which has branches across the Middle East. They used to operate independently, but now they want to establish a single tech center in the Amman which can upgrade software for the whole network of banks. This has only been possible because the cost of bandwidth is going down and its reliability is going up. Orange has an important role to play in supporting this transformation. It means changing our own business model in terms of what we bring to the customer. Today, we are delivering connectivity. We want to go one step further and begin delivering security, cloud, and managed services. We want the customer to be able to concentrate on their core business, and rely on us to take care of their IT connectivity issues.

Is there a risk of stretching yourselves too thin by taking on all this?

If we don’t differentiate ourselves, people will just switch to another operator like they’re shopping for any other commodity. We believe there’s room for us to expand outside what we are doing in our core business. But it’s crucial not to jump too far away from your core business. In the past, our group tried to push into producing content, competing with the likes of Canal Plus and BSkyB. It’s not our business to do that and we failed. It was too far removed from what we do the best, which is content delivery. Our successful music streaming partnership with Anghami is a good example of what can be achieved. Our group is also looking to develop services for wearables, the Internet of Things, and machine-to-machine technology. They all show great potential.