Aamir Ibrahim, CEO, Jazz, speaks about what his company has achieved in 25 years and what needs to be done next.
ZEENAT CHAUDHARY: You have worked for Jazz since 1994 in one way or another. How would you describe the experience so far?
AAMIR IBRAHIM: Jazz is celebrating 25 years in Pakistan and the good (or bad) thing is that I have been involved with Jazz in one way, shape or form for the last 25 years. Jazz (at that time Mobilink) was more or less my first ‘real’ job after graduating and my first love. Working in a fast-paced industry like telecom – now even faster with the advent of technology, the internet and over-the-top (OTT) players (Netflix, YouTube, Hulu, etc.), makes me feel as if I am still at university – the university of life. Every semester there are finals, a thesis to submit and research to be done. You have to keep learning to keep up; the beauty of this industry is that it is constantly evolving as well as helping other industries evolve and consequently shaping our lives.
ZC: When you rejoined Jazz in 2015, what changes did you make to the brand?
AI: I rejoined at a time when Mobilink (which started out as immensely successful company) had run its course – and a cultural and digital transformation was necessary, which was reliant on two crucial components: willingness to change and the ability to change. What was lacking in the Mobilink of 2015 was a willingness to change, but once we tackled this, transformation began. During this transformation we acquired Warid, which gave us the scale to improve our profitability. The transformation we have accomplished over the last four years is a consequence of injecting a turnover mindset and shaking up the organisation before somebody else shook it up.
ZC: Jazz is one of Pakistan’s most recognised telecom companies. Do you think that Jazz can bridge the gap between urban and rural internet users by leveraging this advantage?
AI: The fact that there are approximately 70 million active mobile sim users in Pakistan, who access the internet through mobile broadband, is the biggest opportunity we see within the country. Landline penetration, through PTCL and other service providers, is very low (perhaps a few million lines) and the need for internet access is being met by mobile broadband providers. However, the question is: are we moving fast enough? There are 160 million active sims in Pakistan, out of which only 70 million are using the internet. This means 90 million still do not use it. When we explore why this gap exists, we find that affordability is the main issue – not in terms of “how much does it cost to use one GB of internet?” but “can I buy a phone that lets me get on to the internet?” Smartphones are expensive for the common man and due to increased taxes, they have become even more expensive. To counter this issue, Jazz launched Jazz Digit 4G, a low-cost smartphone that people can use to watch YouTube, use Google Voice, Facebook and WhatsApp. By pricing the smartphone at Rs 1,799, we are trying to reduce the digital divide between the urban and rural areas where the basic affordability of buying a smartphone is the main entry barrier.
ZC: How important is it to increase the internet penetration rate?
AI: To think that the country can progress without internet access is like depriving the public of electricity or water. The internet is a key building block of our infrastructure. To address this concern, the first part is to give everybody the opportunity to be able to use a smartphone with an internet connection. If you are thinking: “but how do we educate these customers on how to use a smartphone?” – the customers educate themselves. There are thousands of people using WhatsApp in Pakistan who have learned how to record a voice note or forward a video on the platform and use it to their advantage. A tailor will send a picture of lace or button options to a customer to ask which one they prefer, or a handyman will send a voice note to a client to explain a plumbing issue. The use of such tools will eventually increase productivity and efficiency in our workforce, especially considering communication is a big block in our productivity. According to a study by the World Bank, every 10% of broadband penetration results in 1.38% in GDP growth.
ZC: How does Jazz Cash benefit productivity?
AI: Ninety-seven percent of women in Pakistan do not have access to financial services and by giving a woman a phone and a Jazz Cash account, you empower her to take charge of her own finances by giving her the ability to send and receive money, pay utility bills, and so on. To take Pakistan forward, we have to take our women forward and give them financial independence. When the internet is complemented by digital financial services, it is a hugely powerful tool to give to women who have been marginalised and left outside the core economy. We are also talking to Dr Sania Nishtar (special advisor to the Prime Minister) about empowering women through the Ehsaas Programme, which aims for “the creation of a welfare state by leveraging 21st century tools.”
ZC: What is the real deal about implementing 5G services in Pakistan and when will it happen?
AI: 5G is a next generation mobile technology and the difference between 4G and 5G is much greater than the difference between 3G and 4G. 5G is not only faster (that is only one aspect of it), it is a technology that connects different devices across different cities and around the world – the Internet of Things (IoT). In Pakistan, 5G and IoT are still about three to four years down the road. We have successfully tested Jazz’s 5G service and we will fully invest in it when the time is right. As of now, 4G can offer all the services we need in Pakistan, and given that only 25% of Pakistan’s population currently uses the benefits of 4G, the bigger responsibility is to bring that 25% to 90% before we start talking about 5G.
ZC: How would you sum up Jazz’s 25-year journey?
AI: Twenty-five years ago, we started connecting people and today, we are connecting ideas. Since Jazz’s inception we have seen an evolution of customers’ needs and we have responded to this growing challenge. Our challenges are now: Can we pre-empt customer needs? Can we delight them rather than just do what they are asking for? Jazz is perhaps the biggest, most indigenous brand in Pakistan in terms of reach (it reaches the same number of places Nestlé water bottles do). Within 25 years, Jazz has gone from being a rich man’s toy to becoming the heartbeat of Pakistan.
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