On the Cover

Sunil Joshi, NeotelSunil Joshi, Neotel

SNO rapidly gains market share

Six-year-old is starting to eat into ’s market share and has grown its customer base to 130 000 consumers and 2 400 businesses, a growth trajectory that contrasts ’s declining fixed-line numbers.

was set up as SA’s second national operator (SNO) in 2005/6 and started out with little more than a laptop and a handful of staff. Today, it employs around 1 000 people and offers communication services to the wholesale, enterprise and consumer segments on SA’s first CDMA network.

Last year, when then MD left the company, came under fire for failing to live up to the expectation and hope of South African consumers that it would offer an alternative to the incumbent .

Industry opinion was that the operator’s heavy focus on the enterprise would be to its own detriment as it had yet to address what the South African public was looking for, in terms of and better service in the fixed-line consumer segment.

However, during the 2011/12 financial year, which ends in March, the loss-making challenger grew revenue 25% and turned profitable at the operating (EBITDA) level. It increased its business customers and retail customers doubled, to 100 000, during the year.

The second national operator recently updated the market on its results and said it grew its enterprise base 18%, to 2 400, in the first half of the year, and added 30 000 consumer customers. grew revenue 10% in the first six months of the year compared with a market that is gaining at about 4%, and competitor , which is battling to grow its top line.

CEO and MD " rel=tag>Sunil Joshi says if continues to gain more than a percent of the market a year, it will make its target of between 14% and 16% of market share by the 2016/17 fi nancial year. has also upped its consumer game with several products targeted specifi cally at that segment, and continues to build up its network.

However, the initial expectation was that would gain 15% of ’s customer base within five years of its launch, a target it has failed to achieve, despite ’s declining fixed lines.

Joshi says “we started the business with two people and a laptop”. Fast forward six years, and the entity, which spends around R500 million a year on its network, has access to about 12 000km of fibre, of which 6 500kms are in metro areas, and 130 000 consumer customers and 2 400 enterprise clients.

Meanwhile, has recently published its first half results, and said it had 3.89 million lines, a figure that had dropped 180 000 from the fi rst half of last year. At the end of its financial year, in March, the number of lines fell below four million for the first time.

Joshi adds ’s strategy at launch was to build a fibre optic infrastructure across South Africa and then provide services to business and consumers, but “laying such a broad infrastructure does take time and capex”. He says its recent financial gains give the company confidence that its strategy of differentiated IP and converged services is working.

is also connecting up other countries in sub-Saharan Africa, says Joshi. “We have deployed world class technology and have one of the most advanced fi bre optic capabilities in sub-Saharan Africa.”


Joshi notes that “every business or residential customer has, has been won by virtue of the competitiveness and capability of the solutions we provide for each segment”. He adds that it will “continue to bring competitive and innovative services to business and consumer customers in South Africa”.

, MD of , notes that fears raised, several years ago, that would gain 15% of ’s base, have not yet come true. ’s current market share is 6%, although it is growing at 2.5 times the industry average.

However, while it may appear that has mostly defended its base against , the incumbent has lost customers as people switch to mobile as an alternative solution, says Goldstuck. He says is not gathering up all the customers that loses.

Goldstuck says is “still a long way off from that magic 15%”. He says the problem is that is chasing a diminishing target, which reflects ’s slowing performance as opposed to ’s gains.

is a much larger organisation than , with about 20 times as many staff, which cost it R4.7 billion in the first half of the year, Goldstuck notes. He points out that ’s cost structure means it has to generate far greater operational profits in order to be sustainable.

’s turnover was 1.5% lower, at R16.5 billion, while group operating expenses increased 1.6%, to R15.6 billion, most of which was due to the group’s fixed-line business, where voice revenue continued to slow.

The fixed-line incumbent group reported a R222 million profit, slightly lower than last year’s R233 million, but an improvement on the R179 million gain it made from continuing operations at year-end.

says its results reflect the tough environment faced by fixed-line incumbents. The key factors affecting its performance included a decline in voice revenue, a 3% growth in data, infrastructure , and increasing costs. It says while its mobile business is on track, challenges remain. Its future performance hinges on its ability to address several key issues, including filling an execution capability gap, resolving the future of the fixed-line business, an inappropriate termination rate regime, a rigid cost structure, regulatory obligations, and government engagement, says .


is positive on an earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (Ebitda) basis, which it hit in the second quarter of the 2012 financial year, and has been positive for the last year, says Joshi. improved Ebitda 276% in the first half of the year.

However, according to Tata Communication’s latest annual report, its share of ’s loss was about $144.91 million for the year to March – which is about R1.3 billion. Tata says “ is in its gestation phase, requiring investments to establish the required capabilities”.

Over the last three years, Tata has increased its effective stake in to 68.5% in a consolidated manner after it increasingly acquired shares from other partners in the joint venture. ’s other owners include Tata Africa, CommuniTel ( Namibia) and Nexus.

will continue to need support for some time before it turns profitable, adds Tata. contributed 12% of Tata’s total $2.8 billion in revenue during the year. Joshi says aims to be earnings before interest and tax positive by the fourth quarter of the year, and then hit pre-tax profit by the last quarter of the next financial year.

Joshi adds that is on track to improve its overall profi tability.

Goldstuck says the companies can be compared in terms of the growth in their customer base. He points out that ’s consumer clients should be stripped out to make a more meaningful comparison between and the fixed-line incumbent.

On that basis, is probably doing better, as its business unit has seen gains in its managed data network sites, its managed data network, as well as its leased line business, says Goldstuck.

’s strategy is to achieve “leadership” in data and convergence. It says it wants to grow Business revenue by diversifying its service portfolio, regain market competitiveness in the consumer segment, consolidate its position as a wholesaler of choice, enhance operational efficiency, and focus on profitable market segments and services.

The fixed-line operator values its assets at about R36 billion and it has 144 000 km of fibre in the ground. has 12 000km of fibre around SA and recently completed long distance links between Johannesburg and Durban, and Johannesburg and Bloemfontein, giving it a national backbone. The group has also laid 6 500km of metro fibre.

The operator has space on all of SA’s five submarine cables, which give it access to majority shareholder Tata’s 365 000km of underwater fi bre, connecting 300 cities in 200 countries across six continents.

Joshi says that will spend around R500 million in capital over the next few years, and has already spent billions, to expand its footprint and connect old and new customers to its SA-wide fibre optic footprint. , however, will spend between R18 billion and R21 billion in the next three years as it moves to an IP-based network.


" rel=tag>Dobek Pater, analyst at Africa Analysis, says there certainly seems to be a greater focus and a more concerted effort to achieve results from . However, he says exposure to the consumer market is likely to remain very limited, at least for the short- to medium-term.

“The consumer focus appears to be mostly on the higher-end consumer (in spite of comparatively low voice tariffs) – it’s the household that uses voice and data services combined, with future video prospects. The access network footprint continues to be very limited.”

Pater expects to continue improving its operations in the shortterm, while long-term projections are better, based on its national long-haul network, allowing it greater participation in the domestic wholesale market and cost savings through self-provisioning of national network.

is also expected to have a greater participation in metro/access wholesale and retail markets through fibre optic network deployments and service improvements in the enterprise segment will see it become a more serious contender to , Internet providers and mobile operators, says Pater.

However, Pater says has yet to establish itself as a serious alternative player but can move into that role in the medium- to long-term. “ does not hold all the cards and has not held them in a number of years now. The market has changed significantly since 2005 and whilst is very strong in some market segments, it faces strong in many segments, and is a niche player in others.”

While is building a broadband network and offers comparatively low tariffs, it still has a low focus in the consumer segment, says Pater. He says “in terms of the SA government’s vision for an SNO, this is coming very short of what the government would like to see – a greater choice for all, or at least majority of consumer users, of telecoms services”.

However, the company has as an advantage in its links with Tata, as well as international infrastructure deployment through the undersea cables as well as a multi-cable strategy to be always connected to international networks and have uninterrupted service offering.

, Ovum’s emerging markets analyst, says it is clear there has been a marked change in attitude in the operator and how it is going about making its offering available to South African enterprises.

“The sense that one gets is that Joshi has focused his team on immediate winnable victories which will lead to greater victories in the short- to medium-term. Testament to this seen in their latest half year results which saw revenues increase by 10%, an EBITDA growth of 276% and the company growing at more than double the industry growth rate.”

Hurst concurs that lacks a concerted focus in the consumer segment. “The focus on enterprise is a natural focus as this is where the bulk of the revenues are expected to come from, but in terms of winning the hearts and minds of the South African consumers this may be one are that could improve.”

Joshi says engaged in the consumer segment in 2008/09, which was its first foray. In 2010, the company revamped its offerings and tackled some of the issues affecting consumers, such as billing.

has been providing alternate services to “the old copper line” and is competitively priced, says Joshi. He says is driving some change in the way the industry engages the consumer segment.

Hurst says that , on its current path and strategy, will make some serious inroads into the South African telecommunications market. The operator has very good assets, such as data centres, fibre networks, as well as access to valuable spectrum, which can be leveraged to deliver new services to enterprises and consumers.

Joshi explains that has two data centres – one in Johannesburg (Midrand) and the other in Cape Town. It offers a range of services from basic co-location to managed hosting and storage. The data centres are also connected to the 42 data centres that Tata Communications has around the world. The next step for will be to be able to extend its fibre network and start to deliver an enhanced communications as well as being part of the increased penetration of broadband services in the country, says Hurst.

Joshi notes that does have – and it is formidable – in SA, but there are some conventional services that it will compete with and then there are some innovative services that give it a differentiated position in the market, such as its telepresence rooms.

“In that we are leaving behind, but in other areas like point-topoint network services that customers seek for Internet connectivity, it does end up competing with other players in the industry,” adds Joshi.