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A man on a mission

Published: 
Thursday, August 9, 2018
Digicel’s new CEO, Jabbor Kayumov is

Jabbor Kayumov is a man on a mission, channelling his passion for telecommunications to ensure the type of transformation that meets the highest possible standards for a sound customer experience.

Originally from Moscow, Russia, he is Digicel T&T’s new chief executive officer, replacing John Delves who resigned in March.

His appointment was announced last Friday at a luncheon at Jaffa Restaurant, Port-of-Spain.

Kayumov has more than 13 years’ experience at the senior management level in telecommunications and has been CEO at several top organisations, including Telia (previously TeliaSonera) and Vimplecom, now VEON. He said he is more than excited to be stationed in T&T.

His impressions of this country so far include that it is a place of amazing ethnic diversity. Since he has a taste for spicy foods, he has already fit right in and is enjoying this country’s many culinary offerings, including curry.

So how exactly did Digicel find the Russian national?

“They actually found me the way companies are finding talents— by recommendations, online. I have been working in different companies, transforming them, or making their performance different,” Kayumov explained.

“I actually know some people in Digicel. I have only heard a lot of good things about Digicel and the fact that everyone is one family. I think these are important factors for me to join the team.”

He joins Digicel at a time when the company is in the middle of a transformation which he considers to be critical if the telecommunications giant is to stay ahead of the competition.

Recent developments include the recent launch of Digicel’s LTE network, as the company transforms itself to meet the demands of its customers. The launch of the $250 million LTE system means customers can now enjoy speeds ten times faster than 4G.

“My new role gives me an opportunity to work with a team that is focused on quality service to our customers. With my desire to take this organisation even further, I’m sure together we’ll be able to create a legacy that will stand the challenges that come with a dynamic industry that rapidly and continuously reinvents itself through the latest technology,” he said.

The Caribbean region is new to Kayumov who arrived in the country only a few week ago. However, he has already started advancing plans for the company’s development.

“The primary focus will be the quality of service which comes along with the network quality— voice quality, data quality—it’s going to be our number one focus.

We want to have happy customers and this is something we are going after,” he said.

Kayumov did not shy away from concerns about staff cuts and job losses triggered by an announcement earlier this year about a Digicel 2030 global transformation programme. The company said the initiative is aimed at delivering to customers a completely new communications and entertainment experience through a more agile application of resources.

The new CEO explained: “The Digicel that we are building for the future will be lean and agile with the right people and the right skill sets.

“While we signalled last February that we would be reducing our global headcount by around 25 per cent over an 18-month period, it’s important to point out that this transformation programme will also mean investment for T&T and new opportunities for new skill sets in line with the digital demands of our customers.

“That means we will be enhancing our capabilities in areas of our business like digital and business solutions in line with the decreased demand for voice services.” Kayumov said Digicel’s transformation will be “a bit broader” than cutting staff.

“This exercise was done for the good of the company. We want to refresh the blood of the company and find new strengths because we believe the younger generation actually has better ideas on how to transform the industry and transformation as such will be cultural as well.

“Digicel has a lot of things to carry on and, at the same time, there are lot of things that can be gained in the industry because the demand of customers is also changing,” he said

On the specific issue of job cuts, Kayumov said this might not be the case. He reiterated that the company’s focus is on efficiency.

“If that means having more people—skilled people—in a team I think that is something I will be proposing to the board.

“If efficiency means something different, then definitely that’s going to be a proposal of the leadership or management team of the company,” he said, adding that in the last three months some 50 or 60 people have been hired in different areas, including the technical and commercial departments.

This is part of the vision of reinventing the business as the demands of customers must be met, including reliable service 24/7, he said.

According to Kayumov, the company’s key performance indicators show that it is doing really well.

Digicel Home Entertainment Services, the company formerly known as Digicel Play, announced price increases that took effect on August 1. A notice from the company stated that costs associated with delivering its service continue to increase across numerous aspects of its operations.

Kayumov said the increase is in tandem with quality and reliability.

“To assure quality sometimes the cost is going up and the company has no other choice but to increase the price and make sure customers are still getting quality and reliable service rather than getting a cheap and low quality product,” he said Android boxes and licences Android boxes are a problem for the telecommunications industry, Kayumov said.

“This is a poor quality product.

It is not reliable so, at the end of the day I think customers are paying twice and still not getting the proper service. To me as a customer, I’m not in favour of something that’s not legal,” he said.

On that issue, Digicel’s director, legal, Desha Clifford, pointed out that the boxes in themselves aren’t illegal and that the issue has to do with the software.

She said a consultation document has been released by the Telecommunications Authority of T&T (TATT) soliciting feedback from the industry on how content from android boxes can be regulated.

“Our position is we will comply with any directive given by the regulator, any court of law. If there is a piece of legislation enacted that requires us to do something to deal with this we will comply with that.

“For now we are just going to be participating in that consultation. We’re discussing it as a company, we’re coming up with our position and we will submit comments in accordance with TATT’s deadline,” Clifford said.

Asked whether Digicel was disappointed that TATT has not yet officially issued the 4G LTE spectrum, Kayumov’s responded: “What do you think?”

He added: “It again comes to the customer experience because we need spectrum to deliver better quality, faster speed.

“This spectrum will enable us to deliver a better quality product. At the same time it’s going to be for the benefit of the country. It’s not something Digicel asked for itself. It just enables technology which we are ready to deploy.”

Asked how the company was able to roll out an LTE network despite not having the spectrum, Clifford explained that different types of spectrum can be used for LTE.

“But the spectrum that is best suited for LTE would be the 700 megahertz band. That’s the band TATT has not yet licensed. We are ready to use that spectrum.

“If we are granted a license tomorrow we can do amazing things with it. We’re just waiting for that process to happen.

“Disappointment…perhaps it’s not even correct to use that word. We are just excited to get our hands on it and we’re hoping that happens very soon,” she said.

Clifford said there is no word yet on when the license will be granted but Digicel officials have been enquiring almost daily about the matter.

Digicel’s competitiveness

Kayumov described the level of competition in the local telecommunications industry as healthy. He said T&T’s population is not as big as in many countries, so there is room for only limited players.

“If you look at home and entertainment you see several different players being on a field which makes a good choice to the customers in terms of choosing which provider they want to be with,” he said.

He said since Digicel’s LTE launch, thousands of customers have changed their SIM cards.

“They do understand it’s a better customer experience. There are some regions in the country where we don’t have LTE coverage yet but this is going to be fixed in the next couple of months.

“And an interesting thing about that is customers from even those regions are coming to upgrade their SIM cards in advance, which is a very good signal,” he added.

Over the top services

Are WhatsApp, Facebook and other free calls applications a threat to the industry?

Kayumov said over the top (OTT) services have affected the sector locally and internationally, so it is important to find ways to operate alongside them.

“We think the OTTs push us to develop something which is going to be even more valuable to the customer,” he said.

“They need operators to have access so we are giving it. We are the true enablers for WhatsApp in Trinidad, giving access to internet and enabling these applications to deliver the service as well but definitely it’s a challenge.”

Kayumov said while the number of people using call options has declined, there is high internet usage.

“I wouldn’t say it’s balanced yet but business is transforming itself to make sure it’s balanced,” he said.

Clifford said it is important for regulators to recognise that OTTs are a reality in the sector. She urged them to “reset their thinking” and “move away from sector specific regulation to regulation that encompasses different types of industries to take into account some of these realities.”

She said: “That’s where the conversation should lie—not really in terms of mobile versus OTTs. It’s the regulation part of it that’s really going to dictate how all we move forward in this type of environment.”

What is 4G LTE?

4G LTE, or fourth-generation long term evolution, sometimes is referred to as “the gold standard of wireless technology,” thanks to its ability to deliver both speed and power in more places of the world.

Specifically, 4G stands for the fourth generation of data technology for cellular networks, as defined by the radio sector of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU-R). 4G follows 3G, or the third generation.

LTE means long term evolution, or the highly technical process involved in high-speed data for smartphones and mobile devices, which most of us think of as wireless broadband speeds that meet our increasing wireless demands.

LTE came about because the 4G standards set forth were a bit far reaching; in other words, the existing technology could not live up to the 4G standards, so the ITU-R agreed that the term LTE could be given to the technology that is put in place as networks pursue the 4G standards.

Today, 4G LTE is the fastest connection available for wireless networks.

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