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Tue 14 Jul 2009 04:00 AM

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Forging ahead

Bravo plans to shake up corporate communications in Saudi Arabia by building on the benefits of push-to-talk (PTT) technology.

Forging ahead
Al-Ageel believes KSA is ideal territory for iDEN technology.

Bravo plans to shake up corporate communications in Saudi Arabia by building on the benefits of push-to-talk (PTT) technology.

While most mobile operators around the world watch their margins shrink as competition forces prices down, Eng. Mohammed Al-Ageel, CEO of KSA based iDEN operator Bravo, is more convinced than ever that differentiation is the main key to success in the telecoms sector.

Bravo, which started operations in mid-2005 under a build operate and transfer (BOT) agreement with Saudi Telecom Company, struggled to gain traction in the first few years. But for Al-Ageel , who took over as CEO of the push-to-talk operator in 2008, this lack of success was all down to the previous management having the wrong focus.

I believe the economic crisis has forced all companies, especially my target market, to start focusing on efficiency. - Eng. Mohammed Al-Ageel

Indeed, while iDEN is a technology designed by Motorola to provide efficient push-to-talk and group communication, Bravo had originally targeted the mass market, rather than businesses and government organisations. "The company had started out with focus on the mass market, but push to talk is actually a niche product that serves niche customers," Al-Ageel says.

"When I took over the company in September last year, I started focusing on two main sectors, government and industrial. I started to look at Bravo's business operations and how we could streamline the strategy on those sectors.

"In 2009, I gave more focus to these market segments, and there are now five main industry sectors that we are focusing on: government, industrial, construction, corporate, general services and hospitality, and health.

For Al-Ageel, iDEN offer numerous advantages for businesses and government organisations compared with regular mobile phones services. For example, the system allows groups of workers to stay in direct contact for a fixed fee, and also allows users to communicate with multiple colleagues simultaneously. Furthermore, iDEN also allows employees within a company to communicate with other partner companies such as suppliers and customers who are also using iDEN technology.

In this type of situation, regular mobile services can become costly and inefficient, while iDEN allows organisations to manage their group communication for a fixed fee. At the same time, Al-Ageel stresses that Bravo's iDEN network also connects seamlessly with regular mobile networks.

"These sectors need push to talk services, and instant group communications as well as mobile communications to interconnect with other networks. Our iDEN service enables them to have group push-to-talk services and instant communication which is important for these sectors because they have a lot of field work and they need to supervise operations, which you cannot do with a normal mobile phone," he says.

iDEN operators such as Bravo do face increasing competition from some GSM operators that offer push-to-talk services, but for Al-Ageel, these services are unable to offer the same level of differentiation as iDEN. For example, he says that some of these GSM-based PTT services allow employees to talk at a discounted rate, while most organisations would prefer to actually fix the communications cost. Furthermore, the discounted rates can often prove to be counterproductive for companies looking to cut communication costs, because the reduced rates simply encourage staff to use even more talk time.

"While some of these services give a small cost reduction, what actually happens is it is only a cost reduction with no fixed communication budget," Al-Ageel says. "But one of the main issues that concerns these organisations is fixing their communication budget where they know they are going to spend a fixed amount for each employee.

"The other issue is it only gives discounts within the organisation, but there is also communication outside with partners, suppliers and distributors, as well as customers. This does not give them the ability to control the communication budget without affecting their business," he adds.

And this is one of the areas that Al-Ageel believes is a key differentiator for Bravo. "If a customer joins Bravo with their partners and suppliers they will be able to fix their communication budget with a fixed monthly subscription, in addition to having the core business of Bravo which is push-to-talk."

Bravo has tailored various packages in line with the capabilities of the IDEN technology, allowing its users to buy bundled services that suit their needs. "When we give our service to the customer we give them a fixed monthly subscription fee that includes unlimited push-to-talk usage, group communication depending on their needs, because we could go up to 100 in a group with instant communication.

"We also give bundled minutes to call other networks, whether local or international, because we are connected to other GSM operators," he says.

Al-Ageel adds that if two companies are partners and both are with Bravo, they will have unlimited communication with certain Bravo packages.

Furthermore, the company's network is also joined to the "backbone" of KSA's incumbent operator STC's network, allowing it to connect to any other network internationally." Al-Ageel adds that Bravo is also looking to work with other iDEN operators in other countries to integrate push to talk between networks.

Bravo's packages are mainly developed around its clients' internal communications needs and their need to talk with partner organisations and other networks. Some of the packages include unlimited one-to-one PTT, while others allow for more group communication. The packages also offer various amounts of free minutes to other mainstream networks.

While Al-Ageel concedes the global recession is leading companies to be more cautious on spending, he said that Bravo is still seeing significant interest from potential clients interested in adopting a communications technology that can save them money. "A lot of operators expect to have lower growth because of the crisis, but since our direction is to have fixed communication for push-to-talk service, our growth is around 20% a year," he says.

Furthermore, Al-Ageel is also optimistic about the potential of the company moving forward, not least because the total workforce in Saudi Arabia is estimated to consist of about 7.5 million people, of which up to one million could benefit from PTT services, according to research from Bravo.

Al-Ageel's plans for Bravo also extend beyond Saudi Arabia, where he sees a potential opportunity to forge links with other PTT networks in neigbouring countries such as the UAE and Qatar. He points out that the governments of the UAE and Qatar recently announced plans for PTT networks using Tetra technology, and that there could be benefits to linking these networks, allowing cross border PTT services.

This could be particularly useful for the logistics sector, given the amount of trade between Gulf countries and the Levant. "Integrating these networks together could be feasible in future because there is a lot of transportation coming from the North of Saudi Arabia, especially from countries like Syria, Jordan, and Turkey.

"There is an opportunity to expand iDEN in these countries, or integrate with the existing Tetra networks if they are available. This way you would have full push-to-talk group communication for these fleets that go back and forth from the GCC states to the North of Saudi Arabia," he says.

As competition continues to increase in Saudi Arabia's telecoms sector, and throughout most countries in the Middle East, Al-Ageel is confident that Bravo will be able to state a clear case for its iDEN services among business and government organisations looking to improve efficiency.

"With each crisis comes an opportunity and I believe the economic crisis has forced all companies, especially my target market, to start focusing on efficiency. We do have an opportunity with a niche product that will serve the customers' needs," he adds.

iDEN in profileiDEN, which stands for Integrated Digital Enhanced Network, was developed by Motorola to provide users with group push-to-talk and regular cellular services. The technology is used in 26 countries and is mainly used by businesses involved in sectors such as oil and gas, logistics and construction.

The world's largest iDEN operator is Sprint Nextel in the US, which had about 18.7 million iDEN users at the end of the third quarter of 2007.

iDEN competes with a rival push-to-talk technology called Tetra (Terrestrial Trunked Radio), which is commonly used by emergency services.

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