22 February 2012
My colleagues in other Eurasian operations, which have been in TeliaSonera’s portfolio for a much longer period of time, might get cross with me. I beg their forgiveness! But I found it difficult to start with any other country than Nepal.
A closed kingdom for foreigners until 1950’s, this state with 8 out of the world’s 10 highest mountain peaks is a sure eye-catcher on the investment map of TeliaSonera.
TeliaSonera acquired Ncell (then called Spice Nepal, brand Mero Mobile) in October 2008. The company was 3 years old and had about one and a half million customers, compared to almost 3 million of its rival, the state-owned Nepal Telecom, which launched GSM in 1999.
In just 3 years’ time, during 2009-2011, Ncell became the market leader. Its subscriber base has grown five-fold, to 7 million customers. Its network coverage has doubled, from about 45 percent of the country population to 95 percent. To make this happen, 6 times more base stations have been built all over Nepal, including the highest 3G base station in the world! It was installed on Mount Everest at 5,200 m altitude and enables the dwellers of the Khumbu Valley, as well as tourists and climbers, to use not only voice calls and SMS, but also video-calls, email, and internet. In Spring 2011, a British climber sent a “tweet” from the top of Mount Everest.
If you happen to go to Nepal, you will be pleasantly surprised with Ncell network quality in general. One might expect a country like Nepal to be a “dumping ground” of second-hand equipment from more mature markets. Nothing close to that! On the contrary, Ncell possesses the most modern network and billing solutions. This is the advantage of building a network from scratch in the modern age of telecommunications (you can buy the latest technologies for a good price). It is also the result of TeliaSonera’s strategy of having the best quality networks in all its markets.
“Green” solutions were taken into account at the earliest stages of Ncell network planning. In particular, Ncell is looking at wide usage of solar energy for powering its base stations. Today, about 3% of Ncell’s (2G) base stations use alternative energy. In 2012, their number is planned to be increased by two and a half times.
Adoption of this solution has actually been driven by a business need - fuel, which powers electricity generators at base stations during electricity outages, is a scarce resource in Nepal, and the outages (so called "load shedding") may last as long as 16 hours per day, especially in winter time. Also, because Nepal is a highly mountainous country, delivering fuel to base stations located at high altitudes is not an easy task. Muddy roads, landslides, and forest debris are some of the obstacles that need to be overcome!
Some of the equipment has to be delivered by "headload" or even in more “creative” ways, in absence of accesible roads during the rainy season, or to high altitudes. Thus, the equipment for Ncell's 3G base station on Mount Everest was delivered by headload during 5 days of ascend.
In spite of these challenges, Ncell has been very successful in building its network and continuously raising the service coverage and quality, which is being widely appreciated by our customers. In 2011, Ncell's revenue doubled compared to the year before (in the local currency, Nepali Rupee).
Ncell is currently the biggest foreign investor and employer in Nepal.
If you are interested to hear more about Ncell and its developments, the company CEO, Mr. Pasi Koistinen, has his own blog (in English), which you are welcome to follow.