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David Holliday: MobiCom must be a role model

Mongolian Economy magazine sat down with David Holliday, CEO of MobiCom Corporation, on the occasion of its 20th anniversary.

-First of all, congratulations to you and everyone at MobiCom on your 20th anniversary. How would you evaluate MobiCom’s contribution to Mongolia’s economy in the last two decades?
-Thank you, and my greetings to all your subscribers and readers on behalf of everyone at MobiCom. Yes, it has been a tremendously exciting and challenging 20 years. As pioneer of the mobile communication sector, we can see now that MobiCom and the introduction of mobile communications accelerated the economic growth of Mongolia, and helped businesses to grow their operations. Most importantly, we connected everyone in this country regardless of time and distance, revolutionising not just the telecommunications industry in Mongolia, but also this usher-in a positive change in society too. People no longer needed to queue at post offices for hours to make calls to their families and friends, and if someone was ill or needed a doctor, a call could now be made, bringing help closer, and with the advent of 3G mobile data, even greater change was possible. In other words, social relations will be closer thanks to our 3G and 4G network as well as other advanced technologies.

Since MobiCom’s establishment, we have contributed over MNT 600 billion to the Mongolian treasury through corporate tax.

According to the ITU’s (International Telecommunication Union) survey, the GDP of a country increases by 1.4 percent when the number of internet subscribers increases by 10 percent. This represents quite tangibly how communication technology affects economic growth of any country. Our investment over the years to bring about this change to citizens has been quite significant too. To give some examples, since MobiCom’s establishment, we have contributed over MNT 600 billion to the Mongolian treasury through corporate tax, and the tax paid by the thousands of employees and MobiCom’s 8,000 nationwide dealers over the years is no doubt many billions more.

On infrastructure investment, we have spent well over MNT 1.25 trillion on direct investment in the country’s infrastructural development. We have created more than 10 thousand new jobs over the course of the years and helped thousands of Mongolian companies both large and small by spending countless billions more, giving them an opportunity to grow with us both in terms of income and in skills development. The Mongolian ICT industry of which MobiCom is a proud founding member, saves everyone’s time, money and creates more opportunity, which are the most important resources for every business. In England, we have a saying: a rising tide lifts all ships!

Industries like digital content, apps and entertainment have been growing at an unbelievable pace in last 4-5 years thanks to the advancement of communication technology, and this global trend is also can be seen in Mongolia.

-Mobile communications is one of the fastest growing industries in Mongolia. In your opinion, what was the main catalyst of this technological development in Mongolia’s comparatively small market?
-You are right. Probably the only sector in Mongolia that is growing in tandem with global trends is mobile communication. 4G, for example, is now established in Mongolia, even ahead of many other countries in the world. So, not only are we keeping up, but unlike some countries who have journeyed through and are hindered by so-called “legacy systems,” I believe Mongolia has actually jumped ahead of many countries because it was a late-entrant to this (and other) new technology over 20 years ago.

Initially our focus was just to connect customers within Ulaanbaatar by voice and then SMS. As the years progressed, so did MobiCom, and now MobiCom’s customers have complete access nationwide. They can access over 500 networks in other countries across the world and roam freely on voice and data when they travel. ICT development created more possibilities, which is just as well, as people’s need for data services, value-added services, and access to social networks increased tremendously. For businesses, we were able to add value to them by providing total ICT solutions from fixed phones to smart office solutions to VSAT Satellite connections, and Domestic and International Virtual Private Networks. It is an industry of unlimited opportunities and potential. 

-Mongolia’s mobile industry showed that healthy business competition actually promotes the development of the industry. What is the secret to maintaining a majority market share in this competitive environment?
-The key ingredient can be summed up in one word: service. MobiCom provides daily telecommunications services to nearly half the entire population of the country, and it is a responsibility which MobiCom takes very seriously indeed. Every customer matters to MobiCom, and each month we serve 1.3 million of our valued customers who call our Customer Care Centre 2222 helpline, seeking to have their enquiries or questions answered. Tens of thousands more are assisted each day by our MobiCom shops across Mongolia.

Have we reached “service perfection” yet? No, for example we still from time to time, have service outages in some soums caused mainly by contractors being careless and cutting through underground fibre-optic cables. Last year, we won a landmark court case against one company for over MNT 40 million as a penalty.

Now other operators in Mongolia will take similar actions, and so we as an industry will gradually change the behaviour of builders and contractors and force them to be more professional. Damage to what now has become, a network of essential national importance which people and businesses rely upon in their daily lives can no longer be tolerated. I think customers appreciate our position on this and other matters, and appreciate our business culture, integrity and total commitment to the customers’ needs, information security, the way we run our business and how we play our role in the community generally.

We also take our contribution to the community seriously and have one of the strongest CSR programmes in Mongolia. 

As one of Mongolia’s leading companies, MobiCom feels it is mandatory behaviour to be a role model in terms of commitment to the laws and regulations of the country. In fact, we always try to over fulfil requirements of us, whether these are regulatory, tax, transparency, ethics or investment in Mongolia – these are duties we take seriously.

We also take our contribution to the community seriously and have one of the strongest CSR programmes in Mongolia, which we hope will inspire other business entities. MobiCom is focused on children, and we have installed one washroom and bathroom facility with hot water, flushing toilets, lighting and heating in one school every month, now ensuring that at least 16,000 children each day will not get sick through unsanitary conditions. MobiCom is also proud of its contribution to the 108 Child Helpline. This service, now a government funded multi-agency effort, has taken over 300,000 calls in the last 24 months alone and has helped children in trouble – over 4,000 of these calls unfortunately needed intervention from the social services and police. These may not be connected to your question directly but for MobiCom, “service” also means we have a duty to service our community in many different ways – and sometimes this has nothing to do with telecom.

-What about security? As peoples devices become more sophisticated and hold more information, what about the dangers of hacking or data corruption which we hear so much about?
-When it comes to data security, customers know that MobiCom’s commitment to their data security and privacy is second to none. Over the years, we have established strong corporate governance to safeguard data, and invested in the latest international security tools. I cannot go into the details in this interview of course for obvious reasons, but it is important that I can assure any customer of MobiCom that we comply with and have been internationally certified by the world’s top institutions. For instance, we are certified by ISO 9001, the international quality management system, and ISO 27001, the international information security management system. MobiCom is the only operator which holds these global standards in Mongolia.

-Mobile communication requires a tremendous amount of investment in terms of building infrastructure and bringing new technologies. When did you spend the most on investment in the company’s 20-year history? What is your strategy during this time of economic difficulties?
-Infrastructure is literally the backbone of communication technology. Each year, we install hundreds of new base stations for serving new areas, plus we have to connect these all back to Ulaanbaatar. Each year we upgrade our existing base stations to provide greater and greater capacity. With the introduction of 2G, 3G and 4G networks as well as customers’ demands for data, this means more investment, and 4G is something that only one other company has so far been able to implement commercially.

We have nearly 7500 km of fibre-optic cable and over 3000 km of microwave backbone transmission. All of this requires greater and greater IT and systems capability, and that is where the largest components of MobiCom’s spending is. This is also what all telecom companies mainly spend on. We have recently created an internet transit route connecting Europe and Asia through Mongolia, laying fibre-optic cable from Russia to China and installing the very latest equipment. MobiCom’s spending on infrastructure investment never stops; in the last 24 months, we have built more base stations than in the previous ten years combined.

Unfortunately, the economic downturn has hit everybody in Mongolia hard, and while the economy will recover, it seems it will be a while, probably not until the end of next year.

We are confident in our network, and proud that MobiCom’s LTE network passed rigorous requirements by Apple and became the only Apple certified LTE network in Mongolia, which means MobiCom customers can use all the functionality of the iPhone and other smart devices on our 4G LTE network.

Although 4G LTE is an important part of our network, we must not forget 2G and 3G networks, which are being used by over 90% of Mongolia’s total subscribers. We don’t forget this, and in addition to our 4G base stations, we have installed 135 2G and 3G base stations across Mongolia in the last 8 months alone, in order to improve network quality of regional customers.

Unfortunately, the economic downturn has hit everybody in Mongolia hard, and while the economy will recover, it seems it will be a while, probably not until the end of next year. As is the same with all other companies, in times like these operational efficiency and reducing costs to the minimum are sensible measures to take, which MobiCom has done and continues to do. We at MobiCom try to recognise that our customers need attention too, so we substantially changed our systems to facilitate earlier this year for our customers, a new post-paid package called “My Mobi,” which allows our customers to choose whatever they want to use, for how much and the way they want to use. It gives more opportunities to our customers rather than making choices among a few set packages offered by operators. We listened to our customers and they told us one of their requests for MobiCom was to remove validity days – so we did. This will give more flexibility to customers and focus on their usage only. In 2015, we have also introduced a Hybrid package to allow customers to enjoy post-paid services while taking total control of their usage. These are the innovative offers from MobiCom, introduced in the Mongolian mobile industry for the first time, to deliver more efficient ways for customers to use our services.

-Your competitors are also introducing new technologies quiet quickly. What are MobiCom’s plans to maintain its position as the market leader?
-Like I said earlier, “a rising tide lifts all ships.” This means that as well as being a pioneer in the mobile telecoms business, MobiCom has also set the standards by which service is judged, and as a consequence, we have been copied, which is good in one sense, as it has led to competition, but in another sense, it’s not so good if our competitors simply copy all the time, as this means that inventiveness is stifled. This leads to less competition, which in turn leads to less consumer choice. Introduction of new technology to the market like 4G stimulates competition among operators to a certain degree, but this is a delivery mechanism; what marks out true pioneers is what they do with this delivery mechanism. I can’t give away MobiCom’s plans, but this is where we will concentrate our efforts, so watch this space!

-Globally, the mobile communication industry is growing rapidly. For instance, the Japanese AU Research institute claims that by 2020, smart phones will become almost as smart as human beings. What are the challenges that Mongolia might face in terms of keeping up with global levels?    
-Everyone in Mongolia deserves to get the latest services, and use the latest technologies. MobiCom will strive to bring state-of-the-art advanced technologies to Mongolian customers. The only challenge for other companies will be the investment needed, but for MobiCom, it has the capacity fortunately, and will seek to keep Mongolian citizens on par with the rest of the region, and if at all possible, we would like to see it ahead of other countries in some areas.

-To conclude, is there anything you would like to say to the industry and customers on the occasion of your 20th anniversary?
-It has been an exciting journey for MobiCom establishing mobile communications in Mongolia, and through the achievements and experience gained in the last 20 years, no one else is better placed to continue to provide the investment and innovation needed for the next 20 years to bring total connectivity to customers across Mongolia – wherever, whenever and however they want. For businesses, we will be concentrating on providing solutions which add value, underpinned by the fastest and most reliable service in the country.

For all stakeholders, whether government, consumer customers, businesses and to all other ICT companies, we look forward to working together to face the challenges of the coming 20 years. And from all of us at MobiCom, you can rely upon us, to be with you in this journey, serving you with the highest standards possible 

-Thank you! 

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