How has Zain been able to spread so successfully in Iraq?
Over the last 10 years, Zain Iraq has invested more than $4 billion to build our network. As of today, we have the largest network in Iraq with the best coverage. We have KPIs [key performance indicators] that are comparable to those in developed countries.
Zain Iraq is becoming more involved in the Kurdistan Region. Why has the company decided to increase its activities in the Region’s marketplace?
Zain Iraq began its operations in the southern region of Iraq. Currently, our market share there is about 50%. Our strategy was to consolidate our presence in the green field areas and then move to more competitive locations. Asiacell and Korek, in comparison, were able to establish their presence in Kurdistan even before 2003. We offer attractive products and services that suit the majority of the customers in the Region. The economic reforms and overall stability of the Kurdistan Region, as well as its high growth potential in the telecom market, make it a more attractive destination for potential investors. Zain Iraq has proved its capability to spread its services and dominate the market in Iraq, even despite incredibly challenging circumstances. With that in mind, we believe that we can achieve remarkable success in Kurdistan as well.
What Zain’s current market share in the Kurdistan Region is? How many subscribers does it presently have here?
We only very recently [February 2013] completed our network expansion into the Kurdistan Region. As I said, the market here is mainly divided between Korek and Asiacell. However, since we expanded our network coverage and launched our new offer here, we have achieved remarkable results. We are confident that our subscriber base will continue to grow, potentially at an increased rate. In similar markets, the third entrant managed to gain a 15 to 20% market share within 18 to 24 months.
How has the telecom sector in the Kurdistan Region evolved over the past few years and what do you think is its future?
The reforms in the telecom sector of the Kurdistan Region began after the war in 1991. The KRG Ministry of Transportation and Communication is the local regulatory body in the area, and the private sector has historically played a major role in providing telecom services. 3G/LTE spectrums were allocated to local providers and the CMC is now in the stage of finalizing the award of 3G/LTE spectrum on the national level. As such, we believe that data will be a major growth driver in the Kurdistan Region. Furthermore, the business environment in the Kurdistan Region is set to attract further investors and large-scale companies, a situation which will also serve to accelerate growth in the telecom sector.
Have there been any limitations or vulnerable areas that have slowed the spread of mobile phone usage or wireless network implementation here in Iraqi Kurdistan?
Actually, the relevant authorities were very supportive in granting permission to build necessary towers and other telecom equipment. The stability of the Region and the available infrastructure have helped to limit security costs and allow the network to roll out faster.
We’ve heard you speak about market saturation rates here in the Kurdistan Region being around 90%. You’ve also indicated that they have the possibility to increase to as much as 120% or 130%. How can Zain plays a part in attaining those numbers?
Most of the neighboring countries have reached a penetration rate of more than 100%. GDP in the Kurdistan Region has a high potential growth rate, and is expected to continue increasing. This will almost certainly boost growth in telecom market. Zain is a regional player with a respectable brand. With our comprehensive coverage in Kurdistan, we are focusing on delivering the best value for our potential subscribers; data will also be a major differentiator for Zain Iraq. We believe that the churn rate in Kurdistan is 30-40%. These numbers indicate that we will have a huge opportunity to target those churners who are willing to try other mobile operators.
The economic reforms and overall stability of the Kurdistan Region, as well as its high growth potential in the telecom market, make it a more attractive destination for potential investors.
How will the company’s decision to float 25% of its shares on the Iraqi Stock Exchange [ISX] impact Zain Iraq as a whole?
Based on the performance and growth prospects of the company, Zain Iraq shares will be very attractive and we expect huge demand on the shares. This will also improve the performance of the stock market in Iraq and make it more attractive as a whole, with more variety and solid stock performance for the investors.
The legal process to enlist a company in the ISX requires a joint stock company [JSC] registered in Iraq. The transformation of our company to a JSC is taking a long time, but we expect the process to be finalized soon. Based on the IPO, the company will have a broader shareholders base with a higher percentage of ownership by Iraqi investors. This, in turn, will strengthen our engagement with the Iraqi community and make us closer to our subscribers.
What are Zain Iraq’s growth targets and overall goals for 2013, both in the Kurdistan Region and in Iraq as a whole?
The telecom market in Iraq will continue to grow on a relatively slower basis, but the availability of data services via 3G technology should boost growth again. Therefore, we are targeting double digit growth. Above the average market growth, we are currently implementing an aggressive investment plan of 12-15% of our revenues; this plan targets the modernization of the network throughout the country so as to make it 3G ready. In the Kurdistan Region specifically, Zain Iraq will be the fastest growing telecom company for the near future. Based on the initial results of our product offerings, we are studying a plan to double our investment in the Region.