AFRICA’S DIGERATI: IDN’S FRANCIS QUARTEY ON GT CONTRACT AND MUCH ELSE

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IDN’s Francis Quartey is one of the leading players in the Ghanaian ISP market and is looking to expand regionally. News Update interviews him about his future plans and the Ghana Telecom/Telenor contract.

How many subscribers has IDN got?

IDN has more than quadrupled its subcriber base since the introduction of of our home grown designed low cost broadband solution. The nature and conditions prevailing in the Ghanaian market (and most developing markets) is such that businesses/people are yearning for products that could curtail the high initial start-up costs and at the same time offer a reasonably reliable solution which can improve the struggling internet market penetration. I think, IDN introduced the "SAVA" low cost broadband solution at just about the right time. We currently have the largest broadband wireless subscriber base in the country.

Who are your main competitors?

IDN recognized a niche market and we have focused on addressing the relevant issues confronting our customers. The problems include reliability, consistency, and affordability. We have invariably engineered processes that tackles these concerns. And we are backing them up with professional customer service sensitivity. Surprisingly, these are knacks which are grossly misunderstood in our environment/market. But we do not take them for granted. Indeed, we have narrowly focused on the aforementioned. Undoubtedly, it drives every work process that we embark on. In that regard, I believe IDN is "miles ahead" of our competitors. We are in the business of providing solutions. Now that is not necessarily limited to internet and communictions. We just happen to be providing internet related service to this extent as of now.

How do your prices compare with them?

Our prices are are generally very competitive. In fact, IDN is currently providing the best price for value in the sub-region. However, I am not a fan of the "price war game". IDN focuses on what our customers needs are based on their activities and feedback from them. We strive to create solutions that impact our customers business models positively. The feelers that we look for are variables that always would provide economic value addition to the customers models. This is our approach to service provision.

What can you offer users that they can’t?

Value! Value!Value!. At IDN ,we constantly look for the value addition to the customer experience. Not only do we provide service, there is certainly a direct or indirect value component available as part of the customer experience- whether we are dealing with a corporate or a cybercafe or even a dial-up customer.

How have you been innovating in technical terms as a company?

The entire IDN concept is a unique process. Our culture, which by the way is one of IDN’s vital assets, perpetuates an engine of creativity and innovation. Our culture is that of free " thinkers ". It is carefully designed so that we (the employees) share a " common bond". We try to appreciate freedom of expression; we try to appreciate honesty and hard working , and we definately appreciate and encourage all manner of communications. To that end, we value inputs right from the gate keeper to the engineers and to the top. The buttress of these rooted qualities has created a beautiful phenomena. Technical innovation and creativity is one of the by products evolving from the process.

When will VOIP be legalised in Ghana?

The Director General of the NCA which is the regulating body of communications in the country as well as the Minister of communication have both publicly stated their readiness to license VOIP operators. In any case, I do not believe VOIP is illegal in Ghana- at least not in the eyes of the rule of law of the land. When will voip be legalised in Ghana? I suppose when we gather the political will.

How will this change the market?

The market will go through a series of phases. Starting from vertical voice telephony as the immediate benefit to Ghanaians. Then to integrated voice/data applications and extending to intelligent driven convergent applications. All of these activities will contribute immensely to the economic base in diverse ways. It would be a win-win situation for for the people and businesses that recognize the opportunities.

Do you think that the Telenor management contract will make Ghana Telecom better at delivering connectivity?

Well I am not privy to the details of Telenor-Ghana Telecom contract. But my opinion as an informed telecom person is this: Telenor is a competent, well capable company. In that regard. I am certain that they will deliver whatever was bargained for and agreed to. However, your question and to a large extent the question that many people focus on is on technical delivery- whether Telenor can help in delivering better connectivity and QOS. I think Ghana Telecom’s issues cannot be contained in merely technical delivery alone. In fact, the root of the problem and indeed the greatest challenge facing GT is that of inadequate leadership, lack of vision, little appreciation of the business of modern communication and a complete paradigm shift of the people that serve in the organization.

These are deep rooted issues cutting across the spectrum of Ghana Telecommunication’s organizational structure. The biggest task for Telenor will be the challenge of changing "set in stone" values and organisational culture accross board. I think Telenor would have to do some quality process management in order to genuinely move GT forward.

What single thing would help expand the internet market in Ghana?

We are looking for a genuine partnership with the regulating bodies that will assist the private sector to thrive based on competition.

How will the internet start becoming available in rural areas and what will it be used for?

Satellite in combination with broadband wireless is one of the logical ways to address the rural internet penetration. Applications will begin with VOIP and gradually include Government to community transactions.

What expansion plans have you got?

Ihave a regional vision. The dynamics of the market are similar in terms of capital expenditure (in most African countries) except South Africa, Egypt and perhaps Nigeria. But certainly, I think we are in the position to move a step level- which is a repeat in the sub-region.