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CEO wi-tribe Mustafa Peracha – enhancing the broadband experience

In a short span of time, wi-tribe has won accolades for its rapid growth in Pakistan’s broadband market. CEO wi-tribe Mustafa Peracha has gained a wealth of IT and telecommunications experience in the United States as well as an MBA from the University of Chicago’s prestigious business school. He talks to Blue Chip about the success of wi-tribe and his vision for the future

In its 2010 Annual Report, the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) announced that wi-tribe Pakistan ranked number one in both the ‘Technology Neutral’ and ‘Wireless’ categories for highest Quality of Service. What factors have contributed to wi-tribe’s success in Pakistan?
Mustafa Peracha: “First of all, we are very honoured by this ranking which we received in our quality of service results conducted by the PTA. Most importantly, these results are achieved through a lot of effort on the team’s part.
I think three elements really played a positive role in making it happen. Firstly, the network itself – we have been very creative in how we have designed the network, how we build-out and manage it on a day-to-day basis. The overwhelming guideline that we use internally is all about making sure that it is a quality network and ensuring that we are delivering what we promise. The network itself is actually giving us all these elements in terms of design, build-out and the day-to-day operations. That sets the foundation.
On top of that is our customer-centricity: the approach we have is to make sure that customers in our coverage area are getting their services according to their expectations. Our customer focus gives us the opportunity to deliver a quality experience to our customers who we call our ‘wi-tribers’.
The third element is our human resource. We make sure that the people we employ are the best in the industry. If there is room for improvement and training, we will provide that as well. So all these three elements have contributed to making wi-tribe what it is today and the success we have had in our short history.”

wi-tribe has also been identified as the fastest growing broadband operator in Pakistan. How has this been achieved?

MP: “We launched in July 2009 so we have been in business for about a year-and-a-half now. Being one of the newer entrants in the market, we and our shareholders realised that broadband has a lot of untapped potential in Pakistan. If you look at the broadband penetration, whether you measure it on a population basis or by the number of households connected to broadband, we are still in single digit percentages in terms of penetration – there is very low penetration. So, there is a huge market. Pakistan being the sixth most populous country in the world gives our shareholders the opportunity to say that there is a big untapped market. Identifying the opportunity is the first step.
How did we become the fastest growing network? The first critical element is delivering a quality network. Secondly, we want to make sure that our customers stay with us. The best referral we can get is from a happy customer. The referrals we have been getting from our existing customers is the way we have been able to build our customer base.
We are a tribe and a tribe grows through interaction and that tribal approach has manifested though the growth we have had. We haven’t been particularly active from a marketing perspective and yet we have been able to achieve dramatic growth. So we live up to our name on a day-to-day basis. We want to continue building broadband tribes across Pakistan.”

wi-tribe provided support after Pakistan’s devastating floods – can you elaborate on this?

MP: “The magnitude of the disaster was something that many people could not understand. After seeing the scale of the disaster, we came up with a very simple strategy: we conducted an employee relief drive which had two basic guidelines. We raised funds through donations from our employees. Once we collected the funds through the employee relief effort, we made sure that each and every rupee got directly into the hands of the people in need. We purchased rations, medicines and blankets and packed them and made bags for families which we distributed to people. We did not utilise a middle-man and the distribution was done by our own employees. Through our shareholders, we also donated to a number of aid agencies as well. In Pakistan, we have a very giving culture.”

What corporate social responsibility initiatives is wi -tribe involved in?

MP: “Our focus at the moment is on the education sector and providing access to education for the underprivileged. We are working with schools where we have been getting them connected from a broadband perspective to the rest of the world. We have also recycled the hoarding skins that you see on billboards into waterproof bags and distributed them to underprivileged students. Education is our main focus and we will continue to give our support.”

What are your views on Pakistan’s telecommunications sector?

MP: “I think Pakistan has been a wonderful story. The Pakistani telecommunications sector has one of the best growth charts in the world. Telecoms has been one of the success stories of Pakistan, particularly in the last seven years or so. Certainly, the GSM sector has grown significantly. The GSM sector led the growth in telecommunications and now other segments in the telecoms sector are leading the next phase of growth. Broadband is one of them. Just like getting people connected from a voice perspective was important, as there is a correlation between GDP and connectivity and studies have proven that a country’s overall effectiveness improves through voice connectivity – a similar correlation exists from the data perspective. The broadband opportunity is still untapped.”

What are the main challenges for the broadband market in Pakistan?

MP: “Education. Unfortunately, Pakistan’s literacy rate is very low. However, we believe that data adoption and broadband adoption will grow as broadband penetration is still very low among the literate population.”

What are your views on the regulatory framework governing Pakistan’s telecommunications sector?

MP: “The PTA has encouraged foreign investment in the country. The telecoms sector has been one of the leading sectors in terms of foreign direct investment. The ability of foreign investors to come into Pakistan was made possible by the PTA and the deregulation that occurred within the industry. The framework that the PTA has put together and updates continuously has been very conducive to foreign investment. The PTA needs to be given a lot of credit for where we are today.  If you compare India to Pakistan, we are two years ahead of India in terms of telecommunications. For example, on the GSM side, mobile number portability was launched in India in 2010 whereas in Pakistan it was launched in 2007. In Pakistan, GSM operators were awarded licenses in 2004 whereas significant growth on the GSM side in India has occurred over the last two to three years. Pakistan has the right framework and environment and despite the instability, we are a very resilient country. We are very optimistic about Pakistan.”

What drew you to a career in telecommunications?

MP: “Sometimes these things happen by being at the right place at the right time. I started off as an engineer and worked as an engineer for five years and then got an MBA from the University of Chicago. When I switched from engineering to management, the love for technology stayed with me. I did management consulting and worked in various companies before returning to Pakistan. The ability to understand technology is something which motivates me. After living in the US for 17 years, I moved back to Pakistan in 2005. I moved back out of choice, with my family. I had previously worked in telecoms and IT which are now converging fields. The opportunity to join the telecommunications sector in Pakistan arose. I was with Mobilink for five years and have been with wi-tribe for the last 10 months.

Fundamentally, I enjoy technology and how it can be used to help people and how it can be monetised. All these things have driven me to a career in telecoms and IT. I am very happy to be in Pakistan and have not had a single day where I have wanted to move away. In Pakistan, we need more people coming back and we need to bring in more talent.”

What is your vision for the future of wi-tribe?

MP: “If you look beyond the next two to three years, we certainly want to be known as the broadband provider of choice. We want to ensure that if someone wants to experience broadband, we are the first choice that comes to mind. We want to be the preferred provider and that we continue to deliver according to the expectations of our customers. It is something which we continue to strive towards.”

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