Feeling the Squeeze, Orange Comes Out Fighting

A revamped range of mobile packages is just one of the ways Orange Jordan CEO Jerome Henique is trying to stay ahead of the competition amidst tougher than ever trading conditions.

By Laith Abou-Ragheb

As well as spending millions of dinars to upgrade his company’s mobile network, Orange Jordan’s new CEO, Jerome Henique, is currently overseeing a major brand refresh. A big part of this has involved streamlining the telco’s myriad of mobile packages and adding sweeteners like the ability to carry over unused data for the first time. But Henique stressed a tariff drop wasn’t on the cards, as the last thing Jordan’s tougher-than-ever telco market needs is a price war.

Why did you think it was necessary to introduce a new set of mobile packages?

Having relaunched our brand platform and also our brand new mobile network, we took the opportunity to totally reshuffle our mobile portfolio. But we don’t want it to be a very simple price revamp. We wanted to deeply understand what the customers were expecting in Jordan, and they told us they had several pain points about the data, the speed of the network, and the transparency of what they’re paying for. We came up with a very simple range of 11 offers, compared to the 24 that we had before, which applies for both pre-paid and post-paid customers, and with very unique attributes in the market. The first is the ability to carry-over all the data that you didn’t consume in one month to the following month. The second one is the ‘always-on’ data feature, which means you can still browse the Internet at a reduced speed when you’ve exceeded your bundle allowance. The third one is a new loyalty program, whereby the longer you remain a customer, the more you benefit in terms of extra gigabits that will be provided to you depending on the duration of your commitment.

But why didn’t you reduce your prices?

We have one of the lowest levels in the world in terms of price-per-minute and price-per-gigabyte. Because consumption is booming, the different players cannot reduce investment in resources, densification of the network, and new spectrum fees. All of us at some point will face some congestion problems. So today is the best moment for the customer, but they have to be conscious that quality comes at a price. We didn’t reduce prices because we consider the market today is already at a price level which is quite unique in the Middle East. So we want to differentiate the customer experience.

You have 2.5 million mobile customers. Are you launching these new packages to keep customers, or poach new ones from other operators?

The feedback that we’ve had from our own customer base has been very positive in terms of improvement in the quality of service. We measure this through the Net Promoter Score and it has been booming over the last few months because they’re enjoying very high speeds on mobile broadband. We also know these new offers will match the competitors’ base expectations, as they are very abundant in term of off-net minutes so you call any other network without worrying about the final bill.

These packages are being launched at a time when your profit margins are facing more pressure than ever before in Jordan’s saturated market. Where will future growth come from?

Data is the future, whether in fixed-line or mobile Internet. Our unique position is being the data leader in fixed-line Internet in a market switching from voice to data. In the B2B market, there’s still room for new value-added services. We have been launching data centers to provide our business customers with cloud services, for instance. We have more and more value-added services on content for the consumer market. Probably the next one will be financial services on mobile.

Over-the-top services like WhatsApp have eaten into your profits. Do you support the action being taken against them by telecom regulators around the world, such as preventing them for being used for voice calls?

We are looking at it carefully because over-the-top players are not investing, are not paying taxes, and are using our networks and infrastructure to jeopardize and cannibalize part of our revenues. In the end, we are the ones that are investing massively in the Kingdom. Last year, we announced a three-year investment of JD250 million to improve our mobile network. What we want is to go for a fair regulation or focus that matches both customer and industry expectations. The regulation is evolving in different countries. Morocco, for instance, recently decided to introduce some strong regulation. We are not pushing forward. We are waiting for the regulator to decide what to do about it. We are definitely, as an industry, facing a problem.

What other challenges are you facing?

Currently Jordan is the number two country in terms of the level of taxation and costs. Over the last three years we had to suffer a 150 percent increase in the cost of energy, and a huge tax increase, which we don’t consider fair. At some stage it will not only impact the revenues of the operators but also their ability to invest in future networks. This is very important for customers, of course, but also for the Kingdom’s GDP growth. But we think there is now some positive momentum and much better understanding from the authorities about this. So we hope things will evolve in the right way over the coming months.

Batelco recently announced it was examining bids for Umniah. What do you think this possible sale means for Jordan’s telco sector?

I don’t have information to comment on the operators situation, the only statement one can make is that, often, when you have a key player in the market for sale, it’s a sign that the industry as a whole is struggling. All of the players in Jordan’s telecom sector are dealing with the same challenges, including market saturation, high tax rates, and expensive licensing costs, which have a direct impact on the net profits of the operators.