Attila Vitai, the newly appointed MD of Telkom’s mobile division, has arguably one of the toughest jobs in South Africa’s telecommunications industry. It’s his task to turn the country’s fourth mobile entrant into a viable and, eventually, a profitable enterprise in what has become a highly competitive market.
“The dynamics favour those who made the land grab first, namely Vodacom and MTN in South Africa,” he concedes. “The third and fourth operators typically have a very tough time. But Telkom is not a typical third or fourth operator.”
In most markets, late entrants are not linked to the incumbent fixed-line operator, as is the case in South Africa, and this gives Telkom a number of key advantages as it tackles the mobile industry, Vitai believes.
“We have 4m customers at Telkom. If we manage to crack the fixed-mobile convergence story and offer our existing fixed-line customers some kind of converged offering, given the loyalty that these 4m customers have towards the company, I believe we can make meaningful inroads into the marketplace. There is a rationale, a business case, if we can truly crack this convergence story.”
Until now, though, Vitai argues, Telkom hasn’t had the mobile infrastructure in place to be able to do it properly. “You have to have a mobile network that satisfies expectations and there’s no point trying to make these kinds of offers when you have only 200 base stations around the country.”
Telkom today has more than 2 000 of its own mobile towers, meaning it is less reliant on its roaming agreement with rival MTN.
Another key focus must be on broadband. Although voice is still important in the mix, real growth will come from data services. And it’s here, with Telkom’s radio frequency spectrum assets, where it is better placed than its competitors, Vitai says. “We have the ability offer a superior data service and our focus will be on bundling that with our fixed-line offering,” he says.
Telkom has access to a large and valuable chunk of spectrum in the 2,3GHz band, which is the frequency being used by operators in China and India, the world’s two largest markets by population size, to deploy fourth-generation (4G) mobile broadband networks. (Read: How 8ta could beat rivals at 4G.)
25 years in tech
Vitai brings 25 years of technology and telecoms experience to Telkom. He has worked previously as a vice-president for Motorola, where he ran, among other portfolios, the telecoms division in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.
He joined Vodafone in 1999 as group commercial director before being deployed to his native Hungary to run the UK mobile group’s recently acquired licence in that market. He ran the operation for six years, before being seconded to Telsim in Turkey, another Vodafone acquisition.
“I did that for two years, but for various family reasons I wanted to get back to the UK,” he says. “However, there was no real job for a CEO whose main experience was in developing countries like Hungary and Turkey.”
Besides, he says, he was approaching the age of 55, when senior executives at Vodacom are “encouraged to retire”.
“So, I retired and officially became a pensioner. I thought it would be golf and tennis all day long, but you can only have so much of a good thing,” he says. “I got bored and soon set up a private equity fund with former Vodafone and Motorola colleagues to invest in start-up and early-stage companies.”
Vitai, who is married with two children, also used this time to consult to operators in Europe, the Middle East and the Caribbean and also chaired a number of small companies.
At the end of 2011, Telkom approached him through executive headhunters for the mobile job. He spent a fair amount of time thinking about it, but eventually, after meeting outgoing Telkom group CEO Nombulelo Moholi, he decided it would be a “fun thing to do”.
“My experience lends itself to this kind of environment.” — (c) 2012 NewsCentral Media