DTAC moving past struggles

DTAC moving past struggles

The mobile operator's latest boss is focused on customers, write William Hicks and Srisamorn Phoosuphanusorn

Mrs Reich says the telecom sector and the government should work together to lessen infrastructure costs.
Mrs Reich says the telecom sector and the government should work together to lessen infrastructure costs.

The new chief of third-ranked mobile operator Total Access Communication (DTAC) has vowed to reverse the company's fortunes in 2019 after five years of falling revenue and market share.

Alexandra Reich, who took over as chief executive in August, says revenue should stabilise in the first quarter of 2019 and start to grow again halfway through the year. In fact, her main directive from the board was to "make DTAC great again".

"We should focus on customer experience and then on winning back customers," she said. "It's more important people feel better about our network than the sheer number of customers we have."

To expand DTAC and improve the network, Mrs Reich wants to promote public-private partnerships in the country to start building the next round of infrastructure necessary for 5G, which will be far costlier than previous generations because of the need for more towers.

"If each company invests individually, the resulting infrastructure will be redundant and complicated," she said. "We should encourage tower sharing and collaborate to make more efficient use of infrastructure."

Mrs Reich said the telecom industry has yet to come up with a business case to make 5G profitable because of the staggering upfront costs. But the idea of telecom companies and the government coming together to share a common infrastructure has been floated for decades, with few results.

"We need to make clear that this is what is best for Thailand," Mrs Reich said. "We all have one interest. It's not just about rolling out infrastructure, but benefiting from it."

Another area where government and rival telecoms can come together is phasing out 2G. The antiquated network is only used by a small percentage of mobile users, but moving these users to faster networks has proved a challenge.

"It is in all our interests to sunset 2G," Mrs Reich said. "If only one or two of us do it, then the remaining company can take advantage of the situation and market to customers who want to stay on 2G."

The National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) should do more to facilitate the transition, she said.

Mrs Reich came into the job during a turbulent time. DTAC was facing the end of its concessions on the 850- and 1800MHz spectra. The company had to sue the NBTC to gain a remedy period to transition customers, mostly 2G users, onto the band. DTAC ended up bidding for the 900MHz spectrum, after which the NBTC allowed DTAC to retain usage of the 850MHz while transitioning onto the 900MHz band.

"The 900MHz spectrum auction was a difficult challenge, and I had little time to prepare," Mrs Reich said. "We had to convince the board it was the right thing to do and if we wanted to make DTAC grow again, we needed the coverage."

After overcoming the concession troubles with the NBTC, the company is looking ahead to the future with 5G. DTAC is working with startups and industries across Thailand to promote digitisation and eventual adoption of 5G.

Businesses have not even fully utilised opportunities provided by 4G, Mrs Reich said, but they will have to adapt fast to take full advantage of the next generation, and industries in Thailand may fall behind if they are not ready for the rapid changes spurred by increased connectivity.

"We need make businesses understand how this technology will work for them," she said. "Getting all industries ready is as important as getting the infrastructure ready."


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