Tuesday, 7 September 2010 10:12 AM

"Congratulations bemobile?" But it is just a small slice of the cake

Dear editor,

Please allow me to reply to one Pedical Togamae of Gurena Village in Isabel Province on the issue of bemobile and its recent launch in Honiara.

In his letter, published under the heading 'Congratulations bemobile' in Solomon Star online, Mr Togamae stated, and I quote "Folks, bemobile has done it. Digicel fans what's your opinion on this? Love to hear something from critics (of bemobile) who loves to criticize so much just like empty drum on bemobiles capability", end of quote.

He made the above statement challenging those who have expressed their dissatisfaction over the Telecommunication Committee's decision to allow bemobile to enter and compete with Our Telekom in the mobile telecommunication sector, instead of Digicel. As a person who had also voiced discontent over that decision, I hereby wish to share my humble opinion on the issue.

But I must clarify before going further that I do not regard myself a 'fan' of Digicel at all, rather a person that is keen to see that there is reliability, efficiency and equitable distribution of mobile services throughout Solomon Islands.

First of all, I would like also to join all those who are smiling right now, with brand new bemobile handsets, sim cards and other free supplementary gifts, by congratulating bemobile for the fulfillment of a part of their contract with the SI Telecommunications Committee (SIG), thus avoiding the give-away of another two million US dollars should the launch had not been undertaken. It is indeed a very good start.

However, I believe that despite bemobile's startling grand launching, the question regarding its capability is still very much a matter of doubt, especially if history is something to go by. So let us not get too carried away with a single launch, for it is just the beginning.

I do understand that in PNG when bemobile started its operations, their launch was also very colourful and was almost convincing. There was therefore strong sense of hope amongst the people. Even the then Minister of State, Hon. Somare, son of Grand Chief Michael Somare described the event as "a milestone in PNG's telecommunication history". But not long afterwards people's hopes had turned to despair, frustration and dissatisfaction. For many of the remote regions, it was Digicel's entry into the market that became their savior. Today Digicel remains the biggest and the most efficient mobile service provider in Papua New Guinea.

So we should think twice before perceiving the recent launch as totally indicative of bemobile's capability.

The event was held in Honiara, where only less than 10 percent of Solomon Islanders dwell. Thus, bemobile's capability is still very much untested. To me, bemobile is still having a some-what 'free ride' of what was already there before it was allowed to enter the market, except for minimal additional facilities to kick-start its own network.

Off course there will be marginal increase in the number of mobile users especially as prices are lowered, now that there is some form of competition in place or due to some people having multiple sim cards.

But be reminded that price reduction is a common market - entry strategy that many new entrant firms in an industry can employ to attract customers and acquire a certain portion of the market. Once they have secured their niche and had gained customer loyalty, price increases can then be either directly or indirectly imposed gradually.

So generally, at the moment both Our Telekom and bemobile are competing for the same portion of a potentially bigger but under serviced market. That is, at the moment they are providing mobile services to more or less the same people and regions that have been accessible to mobile services even before bemobile's entry into the market.

Thus, I think it is still too early to jump around and 'celebrate', as what we have witnessed was just a small and first step forward in a very long and difficult journey for bemobile and even Our Telekom.

The actual capability of bemobile would only be certainly put to test when the current market has been expanded and therefore extended further into areas and regions that are not currently within mobile service coverage. And for me, it is only when the service is made accessible to most if not all of our rural dwellers - that is when I can have access to mobile services from the remote dwellings of Arosi in Makira - that I can join everybody else to celebrate.

Like all other means of service delivery- including that from the government, for the moment the mobile network service is still very much centralized in urban centers or within the fringes of urban areas. And these are the very same areas that have been enjoying comparably better standards of service, even from the government, for many years since our nation's independence.

So to me the situation only re- emphasizes the 'norm' of centralization, a trend that has been a major cause factor to other social issues that our country is currently faced with, such as the rural - urban migration dilemma. The rural areas are being continuously marginalized and deprived of essential services.

Having said that, I do acknowledge that bemobile still has a contract to fulfill within a given time-frame, and the task ahead is certainly not easy. Therefore I do hope that it won't be too long before mobile services are made accessible throughout the rest of Solomon Islands, or at least to 95 percent of the country. Till then, I will reserve my energy from 'celebrating'.

As for now I will give bemobile the benefit of doubt! Good luck to you and all the best!

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this letter/article are those of Derick Manu'ari and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Solomon Times Online.

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