June 30, 2008

Thai Mobile Market Leader AIS Says Award Brings Big Confidence Boost

By Umesh Pandey, Bangkok Post, Thailand

Jun. 28--It is seldom that Thai companies get recognition outside their home turf and for a company that had for nearly two years faced the wrath of the Thai society, an accolade that it is among the best in its industry has a different level of meaning.

Advanced Info Service Plc, the country's leading mobile phone operator with 25 million customers, last week received the Asean Mobile Operator of the Year award by Asian Mobile News, a bimonthly magazine that is considered among the best in the industry.

"This is an honour for us as a firm and shows that we are innovative, service-oriented, financially strong and offer a vast array of products to our customers," president Wichien Mektrakarn said after receiving the award, including Mobile Operator of the Year for Thailand.

The award comes on the heels of AIS having gone though a phase of turbulence as it was the centre of attack for political reasons and had to scale back its publicity. He said the magazine usually looked as all aspects of the business before giving out such awards, and added that AIS would continue to roll out various projects in order to keep its competitive edge over its rivals.

Part of the effort of AIS is to follow the regional and global trend of reaching out to the mass market as the company is still perceived to one for more affluent consumers.

"We have to admit that the perception of AIS is that it is expensive but we want to change that," he said. "This is a regional trend and we will follow it as well."

Regionally, most operators are reaching out to this segment and one good example is Philippines based Smart Communication, the mobile unit of PLDT.

"There is a growing trend in every country to move to the lower strata of the market, which has become the key," said Napoleon Nazareno, president and chief executive of Smart Communication.

"This is where the growth is, and despite the high level of penetration, it is this segment that would provide a lot of the future growth."

But entering the lower end of the market also means that an operator has to provide for a good and affordable refill packages suitable for such a market. Smart Communications offers refill packages for as low as 20 US cents, which can 15 short messages, a relatively attractive deal for the SMS-crazy Filipinos.

"This is the trend in Asia, like sachet-sized products for everyone in the market," Mr Nazareno says, and so successful is this sachet sized refills that Smart sees more than seven million refills per day taking place.

The challenge he says, is that they have to distinguish the various products and services to cater to both the high-end and low-end markets, which at times is difficult.


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