CEO of Beeline about life during coronavirus crisis, gigabytes falling in price, 5G and Kaizen

In the interview with, Evgeniy Nastradin, CEO of Beeline Kazakhstan, sums up the results of company's work in the most difficult year of the XXI century

Evgeniy, let's remember March 2020. When did you begin to experience all the delights of working remotely?

- This is a vampire question, and my answer can take lots of time. All that was remarkable and stressful at the same time (laughs). We were lucky to have Chinese suppliers, and even before everything started to shut down in Kazakhstan, we learned from our suppliers what was happening with traffic and customer behavior during the quarantine in neighboring country. We began to prepare hard, buying and delivering equipment in advance. And, as we later realized, that was a good decision, because at the peak of the quarantine, there was a global collapse in the logistics system.

Our company switched to remote work on March 13, a week before the quarantine was declared throughout the country. We were not sure about what to expect, and decided to train ourselves and see if we would be able to work from home. We planned to switch to online work for a week. As a result, we still work remotely...

Communication is one of the few businesses that began to prosper due to coronavirus crisis.

- Coronavirus crisis showed the value of Telecom providers. Imagine if in addition to all the horror that took place during the lockdown, there was no connection!

I think everyone has realized how important it is to have high-quality connection services. And this shift of perceptions is beneficial for us.

But you should not forget that we buy equipment abroad from global suppliers. And I'm standing in line for equipment with companies like Vodafone, AT&T, and Verizon. The price of the equipment for me is not cheaper than for them. Therefore, large costs are pegged to the foreign currency.

At the same time, our income is in KZT, and after each devaluation of local currency, the marginality of the business falls. Therefore our business has not grown in foreign currency in this year. And this is bad, because we reinvest 20% of all income in the development of the network. And if our income in foreign currency does not grow, I have less opportunity to invest in the purchase of new equipment to expand coverage, increase the speed of connection and introduce new technologies.

Evgeniy, did you have enough time and energy to compete this year?

- The battles do not stop (laughs). We compete in several areas. In retail in different points and regions, the operator seeks to make an interesting offer to the buyer of the SIM card. We have had a dozen interesting promotional activities this year despite the fact that during lockdown about 75% of retail outlets were closed, and after the quarantine ended, some of them did not reopen: previously, about 20 thousand outlets sold SIM cards in the country, and now only 8 thousand.

The second area of competition is offering new interesting products. We have launched a lot of them this year, including those based on sharing principle or even free ones. For example, “One for all” service provides the opportunity to add several numbers to one tariff and share the Internet and minutes with others. "Dari gigi" (“Present gigs”) allows sending gigabytes to any other consumer, and a free TV360 subscription allows watching popular TV channels, movies and TV series in Kazakh in BeeTV application. By the way, this subscription has won a EUROBAK 2020 Award.

The third area is 5G. And each operator has its own vision of its development.

But we are cooperating in other areas. So, this year we started cooperation in rural settlements to build a joint network with broadband access in settlements with 250 and more people. All mobile operators have split about 1 thousand settlements, where they build their networks and let competitors into these settlements. This year, Beeline will cover up to 300 settlements. It is difficult to convey the emotions of residents who have the Internet for the first time in their lives. Now they can communicate with a doctor online, make requests to the Akimat, state agencies, and use entertainment services.

And why do you have 5G battles? The standards don’t allow for building and launching it in Kazakhstan. Or are you counting the chicken before they are hatched?

- We offer the government to invite all companies to bid for 5G frequencies. This is what many countries do. But our competitors propose to create a single infrastructure operator based on a single player, which will receive frequencies from the government and build 5G network. Other operators will buy services from this single player practically acting as virtual operators. We do not agree with that approach: for us, any restriction on access to frequencies and technologies is a strategic restriction.

Beeline is the only private mobile operator in Kazakhstan. And if they want to see us as an investor, then we should have market conditions for access to technologies.