News, views and commentary from the telecoms sector across emerging markets and developing countries worldwide

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Eurasia Com: doing the business in Turkey and the CIS

Back in January, I wrote about the Eurasia Com conference which the good folks at Informa Telecoms & Media host annually in Istanbul, taking place in either March or April. At the time, I thought it was unlikely that I would be able to attend. Happily, it did turn out to be possible after all,  meaning that I am able to report some of what was discussed at the Conrad Hotel on 23rd and 24th March.

For those not familiar with the event or with the wider series of related conference-plus-exhibition events of which it is a part, a few words of explanation:
  • Informa's Com World Series evolved from what was once known as the GSM (and later GSM>3G) World Series of events. The GSM series was itself a spin-off of the GSM World Congress (now Mobile World Congress), of which Informa was the original founder.
  • The GSM World Series brought scaled-down versions of the main event to a selection of locations ranged around the world's emerging markets. In each location, the aim was to gather large numbers of decision-makers from the mobile operators of the region around the host city. These locations included cities in Africa, Asia, Latin America and Central and Eastern Europe.
  • The Com World Series brand was introduced a few years ago to reflect a perceived need to offer meeting points for a broader community than just GSM mobile operators. The organisers were mindful of the idea that the previously quite sharp fixed-mobile distinction was becoming increasingly fuzzy around the world. They thought about what had once been pure play mobile operators offering other kinds of broadband service, either by building new networks (copper, fibre, fixed-wireless) or in partnership with established fixed-line operators. They thought about new mobility propositions from companies whose previous offerings had not been in the cellular space. They thought about incumbent fixed-line operators merging with previously quite separate mobile business units (think in terms of what Deutsche Telekom is doing all over the CEE region).
  • Throughout this evolution, Informa's series of events has stuck to a pretty successful business model, which is still in place today - operators (and other telecoms service providers) attend for free, with most of the revenue coming from any organisations with products and services to sell into the operator space. This includes the major network technology vendors and all manner of software companies, systems integrators, consultancies etc.
  • Eurasia Com is a relatively new part of the Com World Series, although this year's iteration was the fourth to take place in Istanbul, having been relocated from Almaty, Kazakhstan, where the event first took place in 2006.
  • The challenge which the organisers face - and which I feel they met pretty successfully this year - is bringing together a crowd from what are quite diverse markets. A large Turkish contingent (representing the likes of Turk Telekom, Vodafone Turkey, Turkcell, Avea and mixes with delegates from the former Soviet republics of Central Asia and the Caucasus, making it necessary to arrange for everyone to gain from presentations in Turkish, Russian and English. If you attend next year, expect to spend some time wearing a headset which pipes the simultaneous interpretation right into your ears.
That, then, is a little about the event, its origins and how it works on the day. The challenge mentioned above (making the conference relevant for both Turkish delegates and for guests from the CIS) was dealt with this year by having elements of the second day billed specifically as a 'Turkey focus' session, thereby acknowledging that there probably do exist some differences between the concerns of the local audience of those of the visitors from the former Soviet republics where market conditions are quite different.

I am pleased to report that this worked well. As a veteran of more conferences than I care to remember, I have got used to seeing events looking busy on day one and feeling a lot less vibrant on the second day. At Eurasia Com 2010, delegate numbers were, I think, possibly even higher on 24th March than they had been on 23rd.

So, what was discussed during these two days of slideware, panel sessions and offline networking? Well, in the sessions I managed to catch, highlights included:
  • Informa analyst Gemma Bunting cautioning delegates to remain open minded about real mobile penetration rates across the CIS, noting that multi-SIM usage makes accurate measurement quite difficult and pointing out that in the supposedly saturated Russian market over 20 million subscriptions were added by operators last year.
  • Informa's Bunting noting that ARPU is declining sharply in some markets - Uzbekistan was given as an example - USD 9/month in 2007, dropping to USD 4/month by 2009.
  • Gemma Bunting wondering about the impact of Tele2's acquisition of a mobile operation in Kazakhstan and observing that the Swedish group is known for its aggressive pricing.
  • Ineke Botter, CEO of Azeri cellco Bakcell indicating the a mobile money offering from her company might not be iminent but was certainly "on the roadmap".
  • Mustafa Kiral of Russian telecoms investment group Altimo indicating that his company is in the market for opportunities to acquire majority stakes in telecoms operators in emerging markets - African markets were mentioned.
  • Altimo's Kiral sounding lukewarm at best when the conference Chairman asked if Altimo is considering investments in the wireline space.
  • Mehmet Hasanov of Aztelekom talking up the revenue potential of the wholesale business and wondering why telcos' marketing people are generally so inclined not to get excited about it.
  • A few snippets about the planned privatisation of Tajiktelecom.
I was not surprised, also, to learn more in offline conversations than I did from listening to presentations. The lesson here, for those few conference veterans who do not already know, is that it's important to get proactive at these gatherings - get among the delegates and speakers, working the room and maximising the opportunity to develop a good number of valuable contacts under one roof.

My guess is that 2009 was at least moderately challenging for conference organisers and that delegate numbers across the events industry may have been negatively affected by financial worries on the part of target audiences. My recent experience in Istanbul, however, just went to confirm that there continues to be no substitute for making face-to-face contact with potential new clients and partners and that events of this type can be a pretty good one-stop-shop for doing so. I would also particularly recommend this and other events in Informa's Com World Series for the way in which they gather crowds from given higher growth regions around the globe.

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