BusinessToday speaks to Idham Nawawi, Celcom’s Chief Executive Officer on his journey with the company, the changes the telco player has undergone and what is in store for the company
One of the oldest and most recognised mobile telecommunications provider in the country, Celcom, is a brand that has been bridging communications and advancing multimedia services for Malaysians for decades. Known for its wide coverage nationwide, the telco has almost 13 million users and owns over 11,000 network sites covering 2G, 3G, 4G, making Celcom one of the leading broadband network providers in the country. Leading the company in the past two years is Idham Nawawi, who very much like the brand itself is no stranger in the industry. With experiences spanning over two decades in both Malaysia and Indonesia, the former Axiata Group Chief Corporate Officer is currently the engineer behind the telco’s revamp efforts and its future direction.
A NEW JOURNEY
“Time just flies, it just shows how fast paced the industry is. The journey has definitely been both challenging and exciting,” Idham recalls as September marks the completion of two years since he took the wheels. “Celcom as a 32-year-old company has its own culture and my responsibility is to turn into a more sustainable company for the next 3 decades,” he says. As part of his efforts to revamp the company, Idham introduced the Celcom Compass. “What it does is it helps to build an institution with a soul. Companies can get very technical and very mechanical but with the Celcom Compass, we can introduce a new set of values.
“I wanted to achieve a balance in what Celcom is all about,” he says. Celcom’s aim is all about advancing societies, Idham says, who also comments that while the company hopes to continue impacting the lives of its customers positively, it also keeps in the mind the need to become a high performance company.
“We have got shareholders and strategic partners who expect to prosper by working with us.” While the company has had a streak of being a high-performance player in the past, Idham says the company has also hit a couple of roadblocks recently. Despite that, the CEO says it is the long-term view that matters to him. “We do things beyond short term prospects, and sometimes we take the longer-term view route,” he says. Operating in a highly competitive field and with consumer behaviour changing every day, Idham tells BusinessToday, that the challenges he faces daily comes not just locally but also internationally.
“Malaysia can be described as a hyper-competitive field. There are so many more players today, its more than what the 32 million population market can sustain,” Idham says. Competition is not the only challenge Idham faces, regulatory changes are also impacting some of the decisions he make. Celcom is among the country’s three biggest cellular service providers, joined by Maxis Bhd and DiGi.Com Bhd. According to a report by The Edge Financial Daily, TA Securitis analyst Wilson Loo stated that the telco giants have continued to cede market share to small players in the last year.
“This is not a short journey to shape this 32-year-old company, we have had our challenges but we want to get established as fast as we could,” Idham tells BusinessToday, further highlighting that introducing agility in the company has been one of the more important aspects of his journey when he first started in Celcom. “We have to keep in mind that the market doesn’t remain constant,” he says.
A PEOPLE’S TELCO
“When the MCO was implemented, it was a test to see how ready we were as an organisation. I was proud with the way we adapted and moved,” Idham shares. The Movement Control Order (MCO) implemented on March 18 had impacted businesses nationwide, resulting in a temporary three months slowdown but with Celcom being one of the country’s largest mobile communication provider, the show had to go on.
“At the time, I had three priorities. The safety of our people, how do we make sure the network is not disrupted and as a responsible organisation, how do we keep providing service to Malaysians nationwide,” the chief executive officer tells BusinessToday. “We changed the way we work, monitor and manage the demand geographically in order to make the network continued uninterrupted.”
The telco remained committed in supporting Malaysians throughout the pandemic. For a start, it ensured everyone remained connected by providing free SIM cards to returning Malaysians who are required to undergo the 14-day mandatory quarantine. The prepaid packs were pre-loaded with 1GB data and 10GB access to Facebook, Instagram, and Games Walla.
“Celcom will leave no one behind and is committed to stand together with Malaysians,” Idham assured during the period. “I am also quite pleased by how we took care of our employees. The network engineering team and customer service team braced through those difficult periods to continue ensuring Malaysians stayed connected,” Idham further highlights.
The telco had also helped hospitals when the healthcare industry needed communication services. Frontliners were also awarded free data and free calls as part of the telco’s recognition of their sacrifice. The telco also extended the much-needed aid to students and the B40 group nationwide, staying through to its motto of prioritising people.
The Jalinan Digital Negara (JENDELA) or also known as the National Digital Network is a collective effort by industry players and Putrajaya to set ambitious aspirations for Malaysians to have quality access to digital connectivity. The national aspirations it hoped to achieve includes 100 percent 4G coverage, Gigabit access fixed broadband and more than 100 Mbps mobile broadband. It also aims to set the foundation for 5G.
Supporting the launch of JENDELA, the National Digital Infrastructure Lab Report (NDIL) highlighted that the national aspirations will be achieved via a phased approach and the priority is to maximise the existing resources and infrastructure. As of 2020, the plan has achieved 91.8 percent of 4G coverage with 25Mbps mobile speed and more than 4 million premises have passed. Phase of the plan which is currently taking place from 2020 till 2022 hopes to achieve 96.9 percent 4G coverage.
“JENDELA came out of the lab that Celcom was part of. There were a lot of debates and we identified the gaps in certain areas. The challenge here now is achieving the last 10% coverage,” Idham says. The telco veteran goes on to share that achieving that target might be a lot harder than it seems.
“We need to set the right expectation because shutting down 3G completely has to be done carefully to minimise impact to users. There are still customers using 3G as the network is widely used for voice messages as well as machine-to-machine application which mostly involves household meter reading,” Idham stressed, further staying on that these part of the process that needs to be thought through. “While it is costly to ensure complete wireless coverage for the last 2 percent, Idham says there are other technologies that telcos can bring over to ensure connectivity.
“We also have to ensure that when the 4G coverage is completed nationwide, consumers have to have the right device to keep up with the changes made,” Idham urged. Speaking further on the telco’s preparation for 5G, Idham tells BusinessToday while JENDELA’s plan is to ensure a 100% 4G coverage, 5G has not been abandoned.
“It will be a very important of our future moving forward. Covid-19 has showed us that. Now, with the rise of hybrid classrooms and SMEs adopting digitalisation, 5G is more important than ever,” he says.
“The way we consume network is going to be very different when 5G gets rolled out. While many assume 5G will fuel innovations to do with AR/VR, automation, and robotics, it may also give birth to different ideas which I’m not sure what it might turn out to be,” Idham says. However, the telco veteran also opines that given the limited availability of devices and applications, it is yet the right time to commercialise 5G and it could be costly for network infrastructure service providers to do so at an earlier stage. “There is currently no mass production of 5G equipment and limited content suitable for 5G usage that is being released to boost demand for the technology,” he was quoted by The Edge Markets.
FROM ONE HOMEGROWN BUSINESS TO ANOTHER
One of the more common observations during the pandemic and MCO were the rise in digital adoptions among SMEs. Business owners nationwide saw the need to digitalise to be more sustainable in the future. And playing an important role in helping them, Celcom offered SMEs nationwide its, Celcom Business Suite. As MDEC’s technology solutions partner, Celcom obtained a business digitalisation grant to finance 50 percent of the digital kit’s subscription fee, amounting to RM 5,000. “We introduced it a couple weeks back and the interest has been overwhelming. We are also reaching out to business association to expand our reach and I want this to be a success,” Idham aspires.
Additionally, the telco’s campaign, “Celcom Business: Reimagine SME for Tomorrow”, is part of its efforts to accelerate digital adoption among local SMEs. The campaign will run until year-end and will see Celcom partner with 13 partners, which will include MDEC, SME Corp, and Bank Simpanan Nasional. While the pandemic may seem as a catalyst for Celcom to come with innovative ways to help SMEs, the telco has previously showcased its commitment towards SME owners.
In January this year, the telco partnered with Alliance Bank Malaysia Bhd with the objective of helping SME owners grow and manage their businesses better with a combination of connectivity and banking solutions. The Celcom Business Suite for Retail which was launched at the time was adapted to the needs of retailers.
KEEPING MALAYSIANS CLOSE AT HEART
“Celcom is everywhere. It’s part of Malaysians’ lives and it touches them from the moment they are awake and even as they travel overseas, we are there to keep them connected,” Idham proudly claims. Establishing that Malaysians will always be at Celcom’s core, Idham says he is looking forward to seeing what is in store with for the telco in the next three decades as it continues to move forward. “We are constantly finding a way to impact the lives of Malaysians in the long term and as homegrown Malaysian company run by innovative Malaysians, it’s our responsibility in ensuring that happens,” Idham concludes.