IO FM The Architects: Adeep Maharaj from MTN GlobalConnect

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The Podcast Transcript

This is an edited version of the IO FM The Architects: Adeep Maharaj from MTN GlobalConnect.

We are now able to voice our opinions, we are now able to share experiences and working together as one unit. It makes a massive difference then as an individual. So yes, we take it forward as one and we try to get the unity and unify what we want to bring.

Adeep Maharaj

Dhiraj Wazir:

Hi Adeep, thank you very much for joining this session. Would you mind giving us a little bit of introduction about yourself your role in MTN?

Adeep Maharaj:

Thank you Dhiraj. Effectively I’ve been with MTN for very long, at least 20 years or so. So it took me from different dimensions within the business unit. But now I’m actually working on the commercial aspect, for four or five years now. Within GlobalConnect itself, I’m now responsible for the commercial negotiations for the Europe SOP. So looking at that my target now is to drive on costs, looking at the revenue uptake, and focusing more on how we save data, how do we maximize this for our inbound roamer. So essentially, that’s what we are looking at, but we also focus on the P&L. So where we have benchmarked KPAs versus our KPIs and look at how we can bring a positive reflection on the company’s P&L. And looking further beyond that sunset, we have now migrated into the hub, we have that migration of the roaming partner, so effectively, what I do is, I ensure that we know my roaming partners are aware of our hub.

Now looking at the big picture, it becomes important because with the hub, we allow the partners to now do the testing automatically. So going forward, what happens is those service gaps, now the pro service gaps, helps in the revenue stream on the back of the AA.73. Lastly, I would like to touch on the Clearing House aspect. I’ve been working very closely with these guys for many years. And I have to say that we bring down the reps tremendously, for the last three years or so, we close the year with zero reps. This helps in the biggest scheme because now what happens is we prevent revenue leakage. That assists our revenue assurance and the group, you know, in total as a whole. But I have to add, though, that my mentee, she has been a tremendous support in this because it’s actually her domain now and she has learned so much I can comfortably say that it’s all hers essentially, I just added support now and again, but very much kudos to her.

Dhiraj Wazir:

Are you responsible for just MTN South Africa? Or are you kind of looking at your role on behalf of the group of the hub as well.

Adeep Maharaj:

This is actually the group in its entirety. Although South Africa is kind of my own specialty, I also look after GlobalConnect, we have a candidate or resource to fill in that gap over there. But I’m looking after South Africa but as a group in its entirety.

Dhiraj Wazir:

Can we take a step back and perhaps you could tell us about your journey into the wonderful world of roaming?

Adeep Maharaj:

You take me back some years now. Actually, to be quite honest, I didn’t know what roaming was, all I knew is that we visited overseas and that’s about in enjoying ourselves. So I didn’t know the word roaming actually meant. And for me to get into the space, I kind of had a little help of my General Manager of Network Operation. And I told him because of personal circumstances, I can’t be doing the technical as much as I love it. I need to now diversify. And then because of that, he said, “Okay, Adeep there’s an opening in a commercial space. And if you want to come to this be free” I did not actually have an interview for that position, just to be honest with you. It was kind of handed to me and I learnt from the ground up. I was working on the technical aspect of roaming, so on the IR.21s

I was doing the Core implementation, you know, from the data side to what you call us in the voice and GSM side, for SMS. So that’s how I learned from the technical and that led me to actually understand how technical works, and looking at the commercials, the team itself and the interaction. And I think steering played a very pivotal role in this. Because how we see our traffic based on what I mean, I can tell you now, for example, we had all services open, but how do we get the commercial? How do we see the revenue coming in? So that led me to believe that maybe I’ll be a better candidate or a resource in that dimension. So a veered my studying towards the commercial aspect. So that’s how it took me into the commercial space.

Dhiraj Wazir:

If you were to meet the Adeep, who was just starting his career in roaming, knowing what you know, now, what advice would you give him?

Adeep Maharaj:

That’s a good question. The Adeep maybe 20 years ago, compared to Adeep now, 20 years later, I would say that that gentleman was very naive, he was very impressionable. He kind of was not stable, and focused in what he wanted, being that young, right. So I can give him a break on that aspect. However, I think what is important is to gain as much knowledge and experience from your peers, alright, always trying to be positive and learning. And yes, it will take you out of your comfort zone. But if you look in the long run, you know, it actually works out. Because if I can call it a return on investment in your own self, it helps a lot, because 20 years down the line. The old Adeep is totally different from the new Adeep, but more experienced and knowledgeable.

Dhiraj Wazir:

What do you think, is the biggest challenge that you face right now in your role for what you’re trying to do for your business?

Adeep Maharaj:

I have to be honest with you, Dhiraj. There are quite a few things that we have noticed we are experiencing and slowly experiencing. I think one of the biggest things would be the human capital. Right. And when I when I say human capital, I mean that roaming is a very niche market, and it lacks the professionals who actually have very limited industry knowledge. The expertise and knowledge for me kind of leads to the age bracket of at least 35 to 40 plus, or so that creates a vacuum between the younger one and the old guy. So that’s something that needs to be addressed. If you’re looking at that, I would say that’s one of the aspects, I would like to highlight the the human capital resources.

Dhiraj Wazir:

Do you feel that in Africa, there are any additional challenges that African operators face, which the rest of the world really needs to take notice, especially in roaming, because we all have to work together?

Adeep Maharaj:

It’s ironic that you asked me this, because just during the course of this week, I had a very good friend of mine from Africa inquiry on how we work on the IoT/M2M space. Looking at that, we all realize that there is an increased uptake to the IoT/M2M, and it does exhibit a different model structure. Because now you see, the trending is at $1 a gig. It’s not a myth.

In the call, he actually related to how do I structure the deal? How do I monetize such a thing, from the clearing house, a vendor or is in-house billing? That’s one of the things that is very prevalent. You look into 5G, how it is moving and how it’s progressing. You look at the technical requirements versus your cost, versus your SA, NSA. And given the cost of SA, how it is moving, right? We are trending now towards the NSA. Because it makes business sense. There is no infrastructure needed to do anything. So the challenge would be the billing because it’s interchangeable. You can’t really define whether it’s 5G access or using a network or not. So that’s one of the things that we are actually facing and I won’t say specifically to Africa.

That aspect now relates I think, to the rest of the world. I think another component as well should be investments, MNOs are already focusing on more advanced technology and learning to further zero IR, right, the fourth industrial revolution. Investment sector, 5G, Blockchain, 5G SA, etc. Digitalization, is the bulk of what is tier one. But, in essence, where does everything actually lie in the network? It’s full of historic 3G and 4G. What does that do? The ripple effect of that is our customer experience. This is degraded. Africa, of course, lags behind the rest of the world when it comes to investment. So, looking at that technology, we are still not even 4G 100% compliant. So what it tells us is that in Africa, there are massive opportunities and great potential for the continent to expand. So that’s from pure investment side as one of the key challenges.

Another thing, if you don’t mind looking at OTT. We are all aware of it and we use it, and we don’t even think twice. You get Microsoft team calls, WhatsApp… is becoming almost second nature. Now, these are on Wi-Fi networks, so what happens with the MNOs know now lose the customer spend on these applications? So what should we do about these things? So this needs to be rehashed? You know, we need to distribute these products via our own network. I mean, we all have Wi-Fi in our countries. So why can’t we look at alternatives for doing this? And how can we not talk about COVID? Everybody talks about COVID. So So what is the economic recovery on this? Where does Africa stand? Looking from a pure roaming perspective, I was reading the other day he was that 2021 research actually shows Europe is the leading destination for travel. And what I won’t call it worse, but a detriment to South Africa is that for UK outbound travelers, they’re now destined to Latin America and North America, UK is now the biggest tourism for South Africa as a destination, UK officially took us off its red list.

So that bodes well, because we hope for our summer months now, we can see a little bit, you know, benefits from it. And looking about the research when I was reading, it really resonates when one of our speakers on IO. He mentioned about intra Europe travel, how it’s very akin to like UK, France, Germany, you know, those guys are traveling amongst themselves. But he was also spot on when he mentioned Africa, because it was not a table at all. For 2022, it’s the same thing. Africa is not mentioned in the top destinations of any travel. In fact, China leads the way for both business and leisure, just to give you some insight. But nonetheless, you know, the recovery we are talking about, we expect business now to kind of recover by 2022. I’m waiting for this to happen.

Dhiraj Wazir:

That’s very interesting. And thank you for your thoughts. So you’re obviously one of the very passionate people in the industry who wants to drive us forward, and it’s full of ideas. How do you think that, especially in Africa, where previously there hasn’t been a platform for operators to come together, IO can play a role, and help and add value in bringing operators together?

Adeep Maharaj:

Firstly, I have to applaud the concept of IO, going out to the leadership that actually thought of this thing. It was, of course, not an easy thing. You have different engines or different organizations that want to do something similar. I have to applaud the executive team for establishing establish IO. When you look at IO, and this is my personal perception, it’s very democratic. That was already a good positive because when you’re democratic that means you have a consensus around the body table where everybody gives you an input. We need to focus on customer experience, roaming should be fully automated. So I think we kind of forgot what roaming is all about. It’s about the customer itself, and not how much money you can make off the customer. You’re looking at how do we need to commercialize these things, looking at the current situation, what we need to do is provide our customers with a better option when it comes to the ranges. We can also substitute good bundles with roaming data connectivity like the Wi-Fi. You can have an agreement, for example, a Wi-Fi roaming agreement, you’re already making it commercial, but the benefit is extended to our subscriber. The essence is more than the subscriber experience, whether it’s a good or positive one because, by word of mouth and using the same apps they can tell you, you know how things are going. So essentially, it’s more like creating a value proposition that keeps roaming more relevant. I think that’s kind of essential, what we should do and what I should do. And not only in Africa, but this should also extend to everybody. If you’re looking at the operating model, it’s very isolated on-premise. So, from that perspective, we can now move it towards being agile, more platform-based, AI-enhanced, because now that’s called Zero IR, it is all about digitalization being digital. I would say maybe the decision making, when we actually bring any decisions is very manual paced, we look at more historical data, why can’t we take it from there, take it to a position where it now becomes more predictive, more intelligent.

Dhiraj Wazir:

There’s a lot in there, what you said Adeep. Do you think over a period of time roaming is kind of really losing its relevance? Or do you think roaming is still important and has a bright future?

Adeep Maharaj:

I love roaming personally, and it’s a good environment. It’s a good experience, you see other parts of the world not generally exposed to. There’s no definitive answer to this theory if I can put it that way. However, roaming is kind of losing its importance. And that relates to exactly what we’re going through right now. Business, especially, I would say the leisure travel has changed. And because of this, the potential market for roaming got smaller. Now, if you put OTT on top of this, and our debt is a threat to us, right as a substitute is always seen or deemed as a threat. And because it’s so successful, what does it mean? Roaming now runs the conflict of becoming even more niche. I’ve mentioned that already.

Looking at that, what we know is that everybody will agree roaming definitely has taken a nosedive. You know, and we have to protect what we had and what we currently still have, and how do we do this protection mechanism. We are looking at our contracts with commitments, so we had to extend those contracts that we had commitments or even reduce the commitments, which was not taken too lightly at the executive level.

I’ve never seen a clause in a commercial agreement work as much on force majeure. Everything was based on force majeure. I really got a very good understanding of how it actually works. That’s one of the biggest challenges, I would say within the code. If you look at this as well, there’s also a flip side. MNOs became more resilient, so, what were they doing? They started forging more aggressively what the disruptive technologies. If you look at disruptive technologies in the roaming space itself, talking about commercializing the 5G, I think there are about 130 or commercial agreements. So we are streamlining BACE, so there is a positive. We’ve got alternate scenes that are taking quantum leaps if I can put it like that mile, so talking about a whole new ecosystem. In a nutshell, is no definitive answer, but there are strengths and weaknesses. We had to adapt and acclimatized. If we did not do that, the small operators would, of course, fall over, and we don’t want that to happen.

Dhiraj Wazir:

Thank you. It’s something to think about. I think the answer really lies in looking at what is the customer journey and how we can provide better customer benefit to remain relevant to our customers, but just slightly changing topics. Do you think there are any myths about the African market, which maybe the rest of the world doesn’t really understand? When you’re having a conversation with, say, operators from either Europe or Middle East or Far East Asia or the Americas, do you feel there are some things that they really need? Or ought to understand about Africa, which would help them work with you better?

Adeep Maharaj:

I think that’s a very fair question, and we’re looking at that, and not undermining any continent, or anybody, perse. But if you’re looking at Africa, Africa is recognized as a developing continent. South Africa is a tier one in southern Africa, but it’s still between developing and developed, right? They are part of BRICS, you understand that now. BRICS was, of course, taken to be seen as the next step for the developed countries. Now, if you look at Africa being seen as developing towards developed and then you look at another country in Africa, that has far less potential than South Africa, rather, then you can see there are already differences in how people perceive the way Africa is. Yes, we are behind when it comes to investments and when it comes to technology. While it has been proven, it’s a growing economy. We expect Africa to move ahead quite rapidly in the next few years and may not be in the next 2, 3, or 4 years, but it’s a more medium than long-term projection.

America or Europe can’t really expand on what they want, alright, they are on that level. To come to this level for roaming, they can’t expect the same kind of commitment in a sense of that roaming experience. They’re not getting it, they are used to instant data, they are used to fast speeds, the throughput, not much what you call us in coverage issue. But Africa is different. You know, we have high spots, we have low spots, looking at that aspect, a lot of the countries in Africa are very rural. So just to get technology there is difficult on its own, but courtesy of GlobalConnect, and Fred and his team, there is a massive, massive drive to get all of us in, to speed up on regards to the fiber, how are we working on the fiber set between East Africa and West Africa, they are already taking that into cognizance.

We should expect Africa to be a much more powerful continent going forward. There’s going to be a massive opportunity as well for the rest of the world to come through and not exploit but rather benefit from us. There is a gap, we are working towards the gap, but it’s not a quick fix. It is time-consuming, and a sort of cost involved as well. And besides that, its regulatory policies. We’ve got four bodies within Africa itself. Now with these four bodies themselves, you know, each one is not exactly in the same land, each one looks very different. How do we get this alignment? How do we get these regulations to move ahead? Because of the gap now we don’t want it to exceed such a limit that there is no turning.

Dhiraj Wazir:

You’re absolutely spot on, you know, one of the main objectives of having the African  Roaming Alliance Lab in IO is to get African operators together. So, their voice is louder, and we can take it across to the rest of the operators in the world and also to other standards bodies so that they consider what is actually going on in Africa, but in the same way, also bring what is going on in the rest of the world to African operators so they get a better understanding. It’s about reducing this distance, but in your opinion, what advice would you give to other African operators about how they need to come together? What is the benefit of coming together and working in unity on the challenges that we face?

Adeep Maharaj:

I think it’s important because having this organization, we are now able to voice our opinions. We are now able to share experiences and work together and as one unit, it makes a massive difference than as an individual, so yes, we take it forward as one and we try to get the unity and unify what we want to bring because that is seen as very important, not only as a centre of excellence as well, but looking at crowdsourcing is something very integral, because you have different ideas and different takes on how people thoughts, and use this thing forward for as one voice.

And that’s where the democracy comes in because it was for the MNOs, and by the MNOs. Using that voice as one, taking it forward, different regulations, different policies, or different zones in Africa. This is not just one operator complaining, but it’s a conglomerate, it becomes more powerful. They will start taking recognition and understanding that maybe relaxing policies and regulations would allow us to go forward. When it comes to investments, maybe that’s a sore thumb right now, it needs to be much more inline. But beyond that voicing opinions, both the regulation policy itself in Africa, perse, is that we have different policies and how they look in retail roaming. If we can get an alignment, the problem here is interconnect rates are excessively high, then maybe the rest of the world and in Europe, so we need to get that kind of balance, and use that as a force with IO.

Dhiraj Wazir:

And in terms of, if I can ask you a slightly challenging question, what would make you happy to see in the world of roaming in 10 years time?

Adeep Maharaj:

That question has been asked quite a few times, really, and I didn’t really give it much thought at that time. Because it’s difficult to say, you know, to try to get the rest of the world and try to get some parity, especially when it comes to people visiting and roaming.

I would just say, top of my head right now, if we are looking at roaming, and it’s already happening, but it’s not to an extent where it should. If I take my family and go to the States, I expect myself to pay very, very minimal rates, why can’t we have where there are no rates? Can it be possible that there would be the best opportunity, and maybe help a commercial model to say that, if Africa is coming into Europe, maybe have a mess of one commercial deal, where not everybody’s individually targeted.

In Africa we don’t have a lot of smart cities perse, looking at how the rest of the world is. But to have that kind of an environment wherever you go, is also good, because why you are working off intelligent technology. There’s a lot of disparities in how we are being rated. In 10 years time down the line, everybody is going to be still moving and being active. You know, so roaming is integral, you need to have that connection between party A and party B. And that’s only coming through your network. Alright, but if we can have rates as low as possible, if we don’t have any issues when it comes to being subjected to an individual, but rather as the country itself. It’s very difficult to put in words.

Dhiraj Wazir:

That’s why I said it is a slightly difficult question. But if I may, the last question I’d like to ask you, which is, I really want to use your knowledge and experience that you have amassed over all these years, and your passion. What advice would you give to somebody who is looking to join our industry and come to come into roaming, maybe somebody just out of university and quite young or somebody else who is in a different career and wants to move over and finds technology fascinating. What would be your words of advice to this person?

Adeep Maharaj:

If you’re looking at an undergraduate, come in fresh out of university, and that’s the gap I kind of alluded at the very outset, for that person themselves, they need to have an understanding what roaming is all about, and then put yourself in that picture. If you’re going out with your family, and you’re going to US or UK, wherever the case may be, you know, what experience would you like. And from that, bring that in back into perspective, and learn from what we are doing.

So what I do with my undergrads is I give them a good overview of what roaming is all about, defining the principles from IR.21, all the way down to the commercials, and then engage our teams when we have meetings, or bring them on to the meetings now silently just to listen and grasp what is happening and look at the overall picture. That can be anything from reps, disputes, settlements, engagement with outside parties, getting them to have that knowledge, because the understanding and the knowledge behind it is important and roaming is something very passionate, I am about right.

I would go the extra length to actually sit down with my students and explain how it works and why it works. And put them in a scenario, and give them business cases, to evaluate. The only best way for me to do something is for them to be in it. I make it interactive, I give them the business case, after discussion with the clearing house, I give them the full analysis, I break it out up over the tables, and I’d say to them, this is what you need to look at. Then I use another example. Just give them the analysis and make them work out themselves. And what is the output? What do they think? Why do they think this? How does this affect this? How does this get impacted? It’s very interactive, it’s very engaging. And the students, they add the very kind of happy to do these kinds of things, you know, especially when I asked him to sit in meetings, it makes them feel like they’re empowered as well. So that’s what I like to engage with them. They were willing to learn during the COVID. I actually met the students offline. So we went to McDonald’s, whatever, we sat down for three, four hours, we had some coffee. And now we’re just going through, because I prefer the one-to-one action, direct interaction between the team. You come with me, you come to me, you come with a book and a pen, not a page, I want to see a book. And I want you to diarize our dialogue, everything that you do. So that’s something that I always hold true to myself.

Dhiraj Wazir:

It’s been a pleasure to hear from you, where you started from, the challenges that you face, what is happening in Africa and how we need to come together. Thank you for your time, this is very valuable for other operators and people coming to the industry, to make people think what they think about this and what they need to do about this.

Adeep Maharaj:

This all comes from knowledge and experience. IO brings a whole new dimension, working together to move the dynamics of roaming in one direction, to the same point. I’m proud to be part of it, it’s a new learning experience. We need to allow ourselves to be more open to talking about what IO is doing. I’m looking forward to engaging with my industry colleagues and working together, step by step.

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Published On: June 21st, 2022 / Categories: IO fm /

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