MOBILE telecoms company, Vodacom Lesotho recently appointed Ghanaian Philip Amoateng as their new managing director to replace Rishaad Tayob. Mr Tayob left to take up another post at Vodacom South Africa at the end of October this year. In this wide-ranging interview with Lesotho Times (LT) reporter Bereng Mpaki, Mr Amoateng (PA) speaks about his vision for the communications giant.
LT: Congratulations on your appointment to head Vodacom Lesotho. Please kindly give us your biography.
PA: Philip Fofie Amoateng is a family man, married to Agnes Amobea Amoateng and blessed with four beautiful daughters including a set of twins.
I have held various operational, financial and strategic positions while working at international telecoms and media company, Millicom for more than 16 years. Before rising up to the CEO position, I was the chief financial officer (CFO) of Tigo Ghana after serving as CFO of Tigo Rwanda for four years, from 2010 to 2014. I have also served as the CFO and later as the chief operating officer (COO) for Millicom Sierra Leone between 2005 and 2009. Between 2009 and 2010, I served as the regional project CFO for Millicom Africa. I have also worked briefly between 2004 -2005 as the GSM network project CFO in the Republic of Chad.
Before joining Vodacom, I was the managing director of Airtel Rwanda from February 2018 after the successful acquisition of Tigo Rwanda by Bharti Airtel Group. Prior to that, I was the CEO of Tigo Rwanda. Before joining Millicom, I worked as the systems design and implementation manager at SOFT-Tribe, a software development house based in Accra, Ghana. Between January and June 2016, I served in the Corporate Executive in Resident Programme (CERP) at the University of Ghana Business School (UGBS). I am an alumnus of UGBS where I graduated with B.Sc. (Admin.) Accounting option. I am also a chartered accountant (a fellow of ACCA) and a graduate of University of Leicester and University of Salford with both Master of Business Administration and Masters of Law respectively.
LT: Is this your first appointment with Vodacom?
PA: Yes, I joined Vodacom in October 2018 and Vodacom Lesotho on the 1st of November 2018.
LT: You have been in Lesotho for almost a month. How do you find the atmosphere in terms of the work and the country in general?
PA: It is a very beautiful country with warm people. Quite easy and straight forward to get things done. It took me less than three days to get some very important documents from various ministries and agencies. I am pleased to add Lesotho to my CV.
LT: How would you describe the state of the information and telecommunication technology industry in Lesotho?
PA: Quite advanced. Close to 100 percent population coverage in terms of data and voice and the only country in Africa with 5G network.
LT: What is your vision for Vodacom Lesotho and where do you hope to see the company say in five years’ time?
PA: My vision is to take the company to the next level in terms of technology advancement and also services to the people of Lesotho. We have just launched 5G and this is just the beginning of great things to come. In the years ahead, we will expand coverage and capacity in 5G to become a Gigabit network (the fastest connection with superior speed happening at 1 gigabyte per second) and more importantly, overlay it with products and services such as internet of things (IoT) to the benefit of the citizens.
Our M-Pesa business is growing quite fast. Given the benefits it presents to the citizens and the government, we will continue to push for 100 percent penetration in the next few years. The days of full digital currency (M-Pesa) penetration in Lesotho are not too far, where government may be able to redirect scarce resources for printing physical cash into other important developmental purposes. This should enable citizens to complete most transactions without physical presence hence cutting down transaction costs.
In five years, I see Vodacom Lesotho as the best and biggest Digital Gigabit Network connecting people of Lesotho for a better future.
LT: What are your immediate tasks that you will undertake to realise your vision?
PA: My immediate priorities are rekindling the team’s spirit, setting the digital agenda and boosting the network where we have challenges. For me, people are everything so I am doing everything to gain the confidence of my staff while at the same time we focus on accelerating the business.
LT: You recently spoke about the need to improve the uptake of the M-Pesa service. What does that entail?
PA: It is simple. Increasing the penetration, getting everyone to be part of the ecosystem. How do you feel about being able to move money from your bank account and vice versa, paying for your electricity bill among other services in the comfort of your home without moving an inch? The future is exciting. Isn’t it?
It is my vision that in the near future we gain 100 percent M-Pesa penetration; ensuring that every Mosotho who is of legal age and is a Vodacom subscriber should also be fully registered on the M-Pesa platform. M-Pesa is a starting point to our journey towards digital economy, so for me it is not only about the benefit to Vodacom but also to the government and the nation at large.
LT: How many customers are currently enrolled on the platform?
PA: To date, we have over 640 000 of customers enrolled on the platform.
LT: Are there any new services that you have planned to make M-Pesa more attractive to the customers and to improve the ease of doing business?
PA: Many more are in the pipeline for launch soon. Look out for future launches.
LT: We have seen that in Zimbabwe, your fellow technology company Econet has gone as far as introducing ATM cards with Visa and Mastercard to go with their Ecocash mobile money platform. Are there any similar plans with M-Pesa?
PA: The idea is to replace everything plastic or cash with mobile (M-Pesa), the closest device to human.
LT: Vodacom subscribers occasionally experience suspected signal jams, especially during times when the signal is most needed. What are plans to address this challenge?
PA: I think what you are referring to is network congestion. We are constantly upgrading and improving our network to handle the ever increasing customer numbers and ensure that the network is able to handle the peak periods particularly around the festive season when lots of people return home.
LT: What potential do you see for the 5G network service in Lesotho?
PA: The Future is exciting especially with 5G and that is the beginning with our Gigabit Network and IoT. Already, we have a few clients such as Central Bank on the network and we expect more to join, so in that sense we already see the benefits. But also, as the IoT becomes a reality in our market and 5G handsets become available, we will see the true potential of 5G network. 5G also presents opportunities in the health sector for remote services like the ability to conduct medical operations remotely due to low latency (real time) and potential productivity and safety benefits in the mining sector.
LT: How soon can we expect the 5G service to be rolled-out to non- commercial customers?
PA: In the near future as the 5G handsets become available in the market.
LT: Many customers here and in South Africa have complained about what they say are high costs of using data. What is your response to this and are there any plans to reduce charges?
PA: Comparing telecommunication providers to other utility companies such as electricity, water among others, you will agree with me that telecoms is the only industry that is consistently driving down prices to the benefit of customers even in the face of price increase of its input cost. Our model works with volumes so as the volumes increase, we are able to drive down prices. The reality is that data prices have been going down and they will continue to go down with increasing usage. It is natural trend bound to happen over time. We at Vodacom are always preparing for it, hence one of the reasons for building high capacity data network such as 5G.