From Celltel to Tigo, and then to Etisalat. The first name was standard. The second was wacky. The third is, well I dont know. It’s an Arabic name, of which the meaning I don’t know. But this stragely named network is going to make ripples in the Sri Lankan communications market.
Celltel was Sri Lanka’s first cellular network, launched in 1989. It was the market leader until Dialog launched it’s GSM network in 1998. After the country turned to GSM, Celltel seemed to stagnate without offering much competition to Dialog and Mobitel. In 2007 the network was acquired by Millicom International (USA) and was renamed Tigo. The network was expanded rapidly, but the marketing was minimal and the company did not seem bothered to compete strongly with the market giants Dialog and Mobitel, and later Airtel. Instead, Tigo remained a bystander along with Hutch. Yet the network retained most of it’s original customer base and remained popular among the younger mobile users. It’s advertising was mainly targetted at the youth. The company did offer Blackberrys, but only after Dialog and Mobitel had offered it first. In an interview in 2008, a Tigo bigshot mentioned that Sri Lanka was not ready for 3G. Although the validity of this statement is still debatable, it was then clear that Tigo had little interest in becoming a major player in the market.
Everything changed with Etisalat. Etisalat, an UAE-based telecommunication giant, acquired Tigo Sri Lanka for a deal worth over US$200 million. The company remained quiet about their plans for the network. Most of the country was probably unaware of the change in ownership and unaware that changes were coming soon. This was a huge difference from the launch of Airtel, which everyone knew about for ages before it launched (it did help Airtel).
Last week, billboard advertisements appeared overnight on spots previously used by Tigo. The posters simply had a green triangular logo with the text “It’s about you.” Today the billboards were updated to proper advertisements about Etisalat. The changes were overnight. The Tigo stores and outlets instantly changed from blue to green, and the network was immediately renamed “Etisalat” on the customers’ mobile phones. Advertisements appeared immediately on television networks and newspapers. The launch of this updated mobile network was well planned and executed, with hardly anyone being aware of it until today.
It is likely that Etisalat is planning to inject a lot of money into their new Sri Lankan operations. Soon the network is likely to be upgraded to 3G, and the company will look to introduce something that will make it the better choice from Dialog, Mobitel and Airtel.
My question is, does this tiny nation of 21 million people need five mobile networks (now with four, not three, multinational backers)? It’s possible that Hutch may also look to expand soon, and maybe some other multinational companies will want to enter the Sri Lankan market. I guess it all depends on you, the customer. What do you want from your mobile network? After all, it’s about you.