Justin Maier, Vice President, Sub Sahara Africa at HMD Global, in this interview with CHIMA AKWAJA, explains why the Nigerian telecommunications market is the biggest and the most competitive in the African continent. Excerpts.
You said Nigeria is your biggest market. Can you tell us what sets this market apart from the others?
We have focus market in Africa where we know we have to work and we split that by regions. So, definitely in West Africa we have Nigeria; in East Africa, we have Kenya as our focus market and in Southern Africa, we have South Africa as our focus market. South Africa is an operator-led environment and the rest of Africa is open channel like we see here in Nigeria. I think the competition in Nigeria is the stiffest on the continent.
There is competition everywhere but definitely when I come to Nigeria you see more competition than you see in other markets. Every time I go to Computer Village, Ikeja, Lagos, I walk into an outline, there is a new brand or there is a brand that was there that is no longer there. So that’s definitely what stands out in my mind when I come to Computer Village or when I come to Nigeria and see how quickly people are entering the market and people are exiting the market.
We are a start-up company, we entered the market two and a half years ago and we are still growing, still managing our success months by months but from a competitive environment, Nigeria is a competitive environment. And if we want to win in Africa, we have to win in Nigeria and that is why it is really important for us to make sure that we get attraction that we have gotten in Nigeria. If I look at smart and feature phones combined, we are number two valued brand in Nigeria, which again goes to show the momentum that we are having.
What are the growth opportunities for you in Nigeria and Africa as a whole?
For us as, it has been two and a half years into our journey of what we call our next chapter. We are the home of Nokia phones which we are very proud about, a Finnish company which we are very proud about and our smart phone journey has been almost two years. It has been a fantastic experience, a humbling one.
Africa has been a very important focus for us. Globally, we have certain amount of regions, six regions that we have and Sub Sahara Africa is one of those regions. A lot of people see how important Africa is to HMD and we really value what we doing on the continent. I think, we have a lot of brand equity and love people have for the Nokia brand. We have almost rekindled the passion that consumers have for Nokia especially here in Nigeria and other markets such as Kenya and South Africa.
We are excited and humbled as to the response that we have gotten. Our growth especially in this country of Nigeria has been phenomenon. Last week was probably one of our best performing weeks and we just see continued growth. Again, looking at Nigeria and the progress that we have made, it’s been amazing to see and I am especially thankful to the local team and most importantly to the fans of Nokia within the Nigerian communities.
What has been the performance of HMD in terms of growth?
In terms of business growth, we have continued to see quite some good growth which is attested to from an IDC stand point. We don’t have specific volumes and numbers to share with you but what is really very impressive is that the consumers love what we are doing and they continue to buy our devices. And because we are innovating not just for innovation sake, we are innovating in areas that fix consumers need.
We know how important that is for a consumer in Nigeria. We know that Nigerians are really very passionate about content, about movies, about music, that is why we have brought them large screens to enjoy. We are looking at what the consumer is looking for, what the consumer price point is and then we innovate in that area to provide the experience that the consumers are delighted about and that is why we are seeing growth.
Actually if you look at IDC (International Data Corporation) quarterly phone shipments reports, we have had the biggest value in terms of percentage growth for the last three quarters. If you look at Q2 2017 to Q2, Q3 and Q4 2018, for all the brands, we have got the largest percentage growth on the IDC numbers which just goes to show our continued progress which is good. I think we have got some products that really suit the African markets. Often, people ask do you have an African specific device, yes we do. Our Nokia portfolio is Africa specific.
The quality is really important to us, we never want to compromise on quality. Consumers know Nokia for the best quality and we wanted to make sure that we continue that legacy of been known for trust quality and reliability. Last week was a great week, this week is better and it can only get better in our portfolio, that’s really exciting for us. We have the Nokia 2.1 which is a huge success for us that has a two-day battery life at a really good price point.
In this new age, every vendor is doing phones that are 4G, I believe you re doing same?
That’s an interesting question actually. All of our smartphones are 4G enabled, all of them. And talking about some of the key differentiators we bring to the market, we know our competitors some of them are still bringing to market 3G devices. But for us, all our devices are 4G enabled. Again, this is consistent with what we see.
The evolution of technology is tending towards the market whether it is in terms of consumer ability to access big data, experience fast connectivity, or in terms of the telecom operators themselves driving infrastructure to support the next generation of connectivity. That is one, the other one is in terms of partnership. Google have very strong partners in the market including distributors.
One key element of our success is our local partnership. At a global level, we have partnered with the best in the industry. We partnered with Google to bring the best of Android into the market, we partnered with Zieus Optics to bring the best of imaging technology in the market.
We are working with the likes of Qualcomm to make sure that in terms of processing we deliver efficiency in our devices for the best consumer experience. In addition to that, at the local level, we do have really very strong partnership with distributors, with retailers and wholesalers and these are the key levels we use to get our products into the hand of the consumers. Every one of our smartphones is running 4G or LTE variant.
What plans are you putting in place to produce 5G phones?
Nokia is driving the network side of it. For us, we haven’t announced any 5G devices. The devices that we have announced right now are the current devices. We do know that technology is moving towards 5G, you just have to be at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona to see the 5G hype. Right now, our focuses is on providing the needs today and if you look at the African continent, we are still heavily reliant on the 2G to 3G migration.
And you look at the 4G and I think, Africa is still so small in terms of our 4G coverage. But definitely technology is moving on a fast pace and 5G is the next buzz that everybody is talking about. It will be interesting to see how quickly that adoption happens and how fast the operators ramp up 5G networks. It is pointless having a 5G device but you don’t have a network infrastructure to connect.
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