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Our voice over LTE service beats existing benchmark, says Smile MD

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Michiel Buitelaar

Michiel Buitelaar

Smile Communications Nigeria Limited recently launched its Voice over LTE services. Managing Director of the company, Michiel Buitelaar, in this interview explains that the service is intended to change the face of Voice over LTE technology in the Nigerian market, noting that that the quality of the service will beat the existing benchmark in the country.

Sometime last year, Smile raised some funds towards the expansion of its network facility. Can one say that the launch of Smile Voice over LTE services is an outcome of that expansion effort?
To be honest, yes. But the money was mainly used for network expansion. We felt it was important that we spend the money to go into a number of new cities and to also further improve the network in existing cities.

The Voice over LTE service is another way to strengthen the company and deepen our presence in the country so to say. So, it is related but providing voice service generally requires less financial resources than expanding a network.

From the announcement you made at that time, that expansion was supposed to happen in other African countries where Smile has presence. Now that you have the Voice service here, which is a milestone achievement, is it only happening in Nigeria?
We have shown strong presence in Tanzania, Uganda and Nigeria. In these three countries, we launched unlimited network. We also have presence in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), but we are yet to roll out the network. But I think it is fair to say that as a company we aim to think big, so we do things on the basis of scale. In developing voice, we did that as a big project for the three countries. We believe that the way we implement unlimited voice network is the way to go. It is really a progress for the Nigerian market and it should be seen as such; it should be functional as such. We benefit from the scale, which enables us to provide better product across this market, but it is still about making it happen in the local market.

Did your experiences in the process of launching your voice service match with your anticipations?
We anticipated challenges with respect to understanding the pricing and also the devices. Obviously, we have to educate the customers. People need to understand what data is, people also need to understand that it is not every handset that is ready to receive the Voice over LTE service. But coming to pricing, we are convinced that our pricing is good.

How do you intend to handle the issue of competition given that other providers also offer 4G/LTE services?
Well, I think the 4G/LTE market in Nigeria has come into existence. We claim that we are a bit more advanced than the others and that we are still benefiting from our head start in that we have the best spectrum, the best technology. Clearly the market is growing and we are happy about that. We intend to play a big role in making Nigeria’s broadband market competitive and I think we too will benefit from diverse offering of broadband technology in the country.

Nigerians are not very satisfied with the services of other Voice over providers in the country. What difference are you bringing into the industry? Also, what is your market penetration strategy to ensure that your services are available to a good population of Nigerians?
We are aware of quality issues that are associated with Nigeria’s voice market. I am not going to talk about competitors. But we think there is an opportunity for those who provide real quality services in data and in voice. This is in terms of high availability, very short set up times i.e. making a call and getting immediate connection, and high quality of sound. With LTE, which fundamentally is a mobile IP network, it is very different from GSM but also different from 3G; we are a broadband and IP carrier. If you make a call on 4G/LTE network, the quality is very high that is one of our claims. When we say super clear voice, we are quite confident that the quality of our voice will beat the existing benchmark in Nigeria. I can guarantee high quality on our network and we think that the market is ready for it.

On our market penetration strategies, we want to be seen as high quality, reliable and fast network operator. Our price is not necessarily the cheapest, but we want to be seen as best voice provider. The way we position voice is an example of that; it is very well placed and very attractive to both national and international traffic. Voice services will increase our sales and our revenues to a reasonable extent. The market for voice will not go down. It cannot go away, everybody wants to make a call.



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