Thursday, September 24, 2020

Cellular phone war ÔÇô blood on the floor

When Mascom Managing Director Jose Pereira drives around town these days, staring him in the face is a billboard touting Orange Botswana products.

In an attempt to increase market share, the billboards sporting national team players mock the competition, boasting that Orange Botswana “has no hidden costs.”

In another billboard, Mascom fires back by urging prepaid customers to turn to Mascom so that they can “roam in South Africa.” This is a veiled dig at Orange Botswana because their prepaid customers cannot roam in South Africa.

In the chaotic urban sprawl of Gaborone, the fierce battle between Orange Botswana and Mascom Wireless is impossible to ignore. Massive billboards line the city streets, flaunting their products at motorists caught in the city’s ever-present traffic jams. The choice of words and the products on display often times bear witness to the undercurrents between the two cellular phone service providers.

The combative ad campaign is already creating some contention in the industry. When Mascom introduced its GPRS system, it immediately bought advertising space to play up its new advantage. Orange Botswana also bought advertising space in newspapers announcing that it also has “gprs” in lower case. The Orange “gprs” was an abbreviation for “Good Products Rates Services”. Mascom apparently complained to the Botswana Telecommunications Authority (BTA) that the Orange campaign had jumped the tracks from competition to unfair advertising. The result of the complaint was a series of adverts in local newspapers placed by BTA announcing that Orange Botswana does not have GPRS.

The ad war betrays an even fiercer battle between the two rivals for the country’s small cellular phone market. When the BTA issued Botswana’s only two cell phone service providers’ licences eight years ago, Orange faltered out of the gate, losing eight months to Mascom, who were the first off the starting block. Mascom capitalized on the cell phone novelty enthusiasm, building up a huge subscriber base whilst Orange was still sorting itself out in the drawing room. As if that was not enough, Orange endured a high turnover of strategic leaders. While Mascom has enjoyed a stable first eight years with only one Managing Director since setting up, Orange Botswana, on the other hand, has had six Managing Directors over the eight-year period. Orange has also had a high turnover of commercial managers during the eight-year period and is currently on its sixth commercial manager. Mascom, with a management contract that ensured that it had the best brains from Portugal, seemed more driven as they were apparently paid on performance. Besides, there is also a perception than Mascom is closer to Botswana’s political leaders that Orange Botswana and may have leveraged this advantage to shore its fortunes. While Mascom raked in millions of Pula profits, Orange, on the other hand, was turning in losses.

Orange Botswana’s recent appointment of the young and ambitious Thapelo Lippe to its top post seems to have thrown an explosive into the mix. When his face first appeared on the pages of local newspapers, everyone thought everything about Lippe was odd ÔÇô including the mixture of his Setswana name and English surname. He was still in his early thirties in an industry that seemed to call for grey heads, and he had no history in the Botswana corporate world. His surname did not ring any bells as would be expected of this appointment. But what made Thapelo Lippe especially peculiar was that no one had anything to say about him. There was a sense that the cell phone industry should expect anything. But even this did not prepare anyone for what followed: Orange Botswana suddenly seems to be catching a new wind, its subscriber base is increasing and shareholders are expecting a profit this year, the first since the company was set up. The cell phone company which for sometime was punching above its weight has now come of age and, for Mascom, who have been having a field day, it is now game on.

Industry insiders, however, say the competition between the two cellular phone rivals has now entered a murky patch and the Botswana Telecommunications Authority (BTA) is snowed under complaints.

Orange, which is trying to wrest control of the cellular phone market, has hitched its campaign on the coattails of the Botswana Football national team. With the recent surge in Botswana’s support for the Zebras, Orange, who are the sole sponsors of the national team, are believed to have cashed in on the national feel good mood inspired by the national team’s impressive run.

Not to be outdone, Mascom decided to cash in on Botswana’s sudden enthusiasm towards local football and clinched a deal with the Botswana Football Association (BFA) as the sole sponsors of the Premier league. No sooner was the deal signed and sealed than the rivalry between Mascom and Orange played itself out in football.

Orange Botswana recently filed a complaint with the Botswana Telecommunications Authority that Mascom had copied its short code to push their premiership game.

The ink on their complaint letter had hardly dried when they filed another complaint of unfair competition against Mascom. Orange did not leave the issue at that. They proceeded to buy full pages in local newspapers, warning its clients that: “ a certain company offering mobile services is providing and or is involved in the perpetuation of misleading information about the long term existence of Orange Botswana. This information is provided as a selling proposition in order to lure Orange Botswana’s customers to change SIM cards at no cost and surrender their Orange SIM cards.

“Orange is aware of the questionable tactic towards diminishing our Brand, reducing our customer base and compromising achieved market share growth. Be advised that appropriate action has been initiated with the regulatory body to protect our most valuable assets, You, our present and future customers. In the meantime, Orange will not counter our competition’s strategy as we live by the following Brand Values: Friendly, Honest, Straightforward, Refreshing, Responsible, Trustworthy, Innovative and Dynamic. Orange thanks its customers for calling the Customer Service line to report the competitor’s strategy.”

Mascom has since refuted allegations that it is trying to lure Orange customers by peddling misleading information about its rival. Mascom spokes person, Odirile Motlhale, was quoted in the media saying Mascom was not involved in any unlawful business practice by peddling false information to win over Orange customers. Orange Botswana Marketing Manager, Kago Mmopi, however, insists that indeed a company offering mobile services is providing misleading information in order to trick Orange customers into switching over to them.

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