Abbas Ali Mirza has emerged as a telecom industrys giant carrying with him long and rich experience in making marketing strategies. After remaining associated with Nortel Networks, he joined Relacom and since 2004 is delivering responsibilities as General Manager. Having the Telecom Engineering degree from NUST Military College of Signals, Abbas has remarkably proved his mettle and earned recognition. Abbas harbours ambitious plans to take the company to envious heights. In an excluseive interview Abbas talks with Technology Times about telecom landscapte of Pakistan.
Let’s start with your educational and professional profile?
Abbas Ali Mirza: I got my Telecom engineering degree from NUST, Military College, Signals. Right after that, I joined the Canadian telecom giant Nortel Networks. Later, I moved to Karachi where I worked on core Data and GPRS system for a few years at Nortel. Then I joined Flextronics Network Services that has recently come to Pakistan and I had the honor to be their second employee in Pakistan. Flextronics itself was a huge organization in terms of manufacturing electronic goods. A lot of telecom companies had their equipments being manufactured by Flextronics such as Sony Ericsson handsets as well as Ericsson, Nokia and Nortel BTS equipment etc. Later, the company had a merger with another company based in Sweden called Telavie and as a result Relacom came into being.
Does your company has other sources of revenue generation?
I would say that 50 per cent of our whole revenue is generated through managed services (MS). We are also doing some construction projects other than the telecom sector and have built some schools for UNICEF. We also have a huge resources pool of engineers who can work on a number of new technologies. At present we have 500 plus staff in Pakistan. We believe we have been able to survive and thrive for so long as we have been able to diversify our business accordingly. The construction business is expanding in Pakistan. We are looking at it along with other houses and building projects.
What challenges are you facing?
We had faced multiple challenges like lack of technical expertise in the beginning of 2000s. There were only one million cellular phone subscribers and telecom infrastructure was not very developed and the main challenge for us was how to develop it? Then we had a daunting task to find right people for this job but now the situation has improved positively as we have abundant manpower available with the required skill set and know how. We have sent our engineers to other countries like Tunisia , Malaysia and Indonesia they have done wonders over there. But now the competition, inflation and deflation in the telecom rates have emerged as a major challenge for us. There should be some sanity over the cut-throat competition in the telecom market as the spectrum auction for the 3G is coming to Pakistan very soon.
What are your expectations from 3G licence? Do you see any drastic changes after the introduction of this development?
Well, as far as change is concerned everybody is excited about it. All the operators are looking forward to it. I dont know which one of them would be going for the auction. But one thing is very clear that the 3G would be more about quality and not being the first one in the sector. It would be dragged by the quality as it would be affecting the end consumers. Mostly I would say 80 per cent would be normal consumers sitting in their homes trying to log on the internet for video streaming and video calling. But of course the corporate sector is very quality conscious, so the operators will have to plan it very carefully instead of adopting a hasty approach. People are talking about 3G but actually the government is auctioning the spectrum which could be used for any technology, 3G, 4G or LTE and definitely there will be advantages of all these technologies but we will have to look at the operators how they plan to utilize these technologies.
There is lot of confusion about 3G or 4G. What is your personal opinion?
I would always say one step at a time. One should go with technology that is thoroughly tested like 3G, which is implemented in a number of countries and it has done well. The main advantage with 3G is the terminals and, the handsets, most of the smart phones are all 3G capable handsets. The 4G will have some issues out there. In that way, I would say 3G would make natural transition. But then there are some operators who might think ahead and jump straight to 4G but right now we will have to wait and see.
Do you think that 3G services will cover the whole country?
If you look at the infrastructure right now, it would be utilized for 3G services. Most of the BTS of existing operators are 3G complaint and if not there the quality could be improved. As far as the coverage is concerned I will say it would not be a big issue for the incumbent operators. In case of new operators it will be a major hurdle for them and then we will see tower and cell site sharing agreements. But then again there will be issues of quality which is the main yardstick to measure the service of operators. We will have to wait and see how they will implement their plans.
How do you see regulators role in the current scenario?
I think that the regulator has done a pretty good job but when new investment is sought, the offer should be very lucrative to attack the investors. I dont know whether we would be expecting the same amount of licence fee we had attracted for 2G licences in 2004 but it has to be very realistic and that is where they should plan it very cautiously to be very attractive for the old and new entrants. I will also repeat here again that there should be some sanity in the call rates to avoid turning it into a graveyard of operators.
Where do you rate Pakistan in the region?
We are fairly placed. Our dynamics and demographics, if not totally different, are much different as compared to other regional players. Our issues are also not the same mainly due to the political and law and order situation. But it is also the time that we should learn something from our neighbours, especially India where 3G has already been introduced. We should learn from their mistakes and instead of killing the competitor we have rather created a competitive environment.
What are your future plans?
Relacom has been quite active in Pakistan, as in the country of the Asian region has been outperforming others due to its thriving businesses. There was lot of work for roll-outs, new sites are coming up and business centres are being developed. We also diversified our self to managed services so we have grown in that perspective as well. But looking back at the last one year, in my opinion, we have come to the point of consolidation and we are putting together our energies and looking for projects that are beneficial to our customers. We have already consolidated our managed services as well as roll-outs services. We have rolled out about 1500 cites uptil now for all the operators, except Mobilink. As far as managed services are concerned we have worked for all the operators and now we are working through vendors working for Ufone and Telenor.
Are you now looking for outsourcing?
In the beginning we had to go out for the outsourcing model but now 80 per cent of the work is being done in-house while the rest is outsourced. In the early days this ratio was 60 to 40 per cent but now it has gone down. Initially, we have faced shortage of trained human resource but we brought in foreign experts and trained our managers and engineers. Now our staff is completely Pakistani. We are even sending our engineers and technicians abroad for doing projects. We have recently sent 8-member team to Indonesia for a project. They did very well there and our customer was so satisfied that he asked them to stay back. These kinds of assignments are very motivating for our employees and they see more foreign opportunities coming which help them to enhance their skills.
Do you have any plans to train human resource?
We have a certain plan and are working on it. Hopefully by third quarter of this year we will be coming out with the plan. Back in Sweden we have an academy and some of our staff has been sent there for trainings. We help them out for projects in other countries, especially in the Asian region but our people have also been sent for projects in Sweden and other countries. Since there is a consolidation process going on, the company is looking for local expertise to carry out its work in Brazil, Mexico and Spain but in future I see that our experts will be required for many projects.
What is the key to success?
The main thing is hard work and making the best out of the opportunities that come towards you. And of course the parents prayers that make you successful. Our company has been able to achieve success due to the human resource and we have taken care of our staff. I have no doubt that we have a highly skilled staff who has always made the company look good in the market. I am very thankful to my team.
What are your expectations on the technology frontier?
As you know new technologies play now-a-days a big role in our lives, I see more and more entrepreneurs coming up. The students passing out from universities will have all the ideas to utilize the technologies to make our lives even better. And this will make a difference as compared to the two to three decades back. I am sure, we will be having some Bill Gates and Steve Jobs from Pakistan. The quality of education in our universities is much better than it was some two decades back.
What are your comments about Technology Times?
It is a wonderful venture. You have done an excellent work by bringing out this publication, which I regularly read. I will very much appreciate your step of approaching the universities as involvement of the students is essential to keep them abreast with the latest happenings in the world of technology. I think that the corporate sector should also come forward in this initiate.