While striving to create a perfect user ecosystem, 2021 has been a year of innovation challenges and incredible growth. While demand for the products soars, Beeline clinches a deal with Nokia to upgrade its core and radio networks, resulting in faster connectivity, better coverage, European standard in data security and much more. To gain further insight The FINANCIAL reached out to Lasha Tabidze, the CEO of Beeline Georgia.
Q. How would you estimate the year 2021, what were the major achievements and challenges?
A. 2021, as a post-lockdown period, proved to be very dynamic as Beeline managed to achieve double-digit growth YoY in financial figures, number of 4G internet users and consumers of digital products.
The figures indicate YoY growth from 2020 and the pre-pandemic period of 2019 when roaming and sim card consumption by tourists was thriving due to dynamic travelling and record-breaking 9 million visitors to Georgia. The lockdown nullified the revenue gained from tourism and roaming services, however, an increase in the internal consumption overcompensated for the loss and the company showed dynamic growth.
The major challenge in 2021 was in regard the logistics of the new Nokia technology. The deal announced in the summer of 2021 aims to fully replace our core and radio network with the cutting-edge Nokia technology, which will result in a more stable network, faster connectivity and will enable us to implement even more digital services.
The transportation of the equipment was delayed for several months due to global challenges in logistics because of the pandemics and we were unable to start the works till the mid of November, which resulted in network errors. Despite the difficulties, we have overcome the challenges and the network upgrade is ongoing. Those customers who travel to the skiing resorts in Georgia can already feel a significant improvement in network quality.
By the end of the first quarter of 2022, we will have finished radio network renewal in major cities and municipality centres in Georgia which will significantly benefit our users.
Q. What was the major learning experience during the pandemic?
A. The biggest challenges often become the greatest learning experiences. During the lockdown crisis, Beeline was ready to fully respond to the sudden shift towards online services. Demand started to rise for digital services such as applications, the chatbot, the website, digital products and service terminals, offering of which became part of our strategy already in 2015.
These products do not require physical contact which is advantageous and comfortable during the lockdown and earned us great success in 2020 and 2021.
The second major learning experience was the shift towards hybrid working, a model which we have been following since 2020. Hybrid working provides great benefits as it raises employee satisfaction and is well-adapted to the new reality. Beeline was well equipped with technology to successfully implement the model and all the employees except for the technical team that needs to be physically on spot, quickly shifted towards working from their homes.
A challenging aspect to successfully implement hybrid working is maintaining a strong corporate culture, where our HR team did a wonderful job. To encourage ongoing communication within the company, HR team has introduced various activities on Facebook Workplace which Beeline was one of the first companies in Georgia to deploy.
We used Workplace not only to share strictly work related matters, but the kind of content to bring employees together and to compensate for the inability to see each other at the office. In our Workplace, you can find dozens of groups of various topics and even the company’s internal talk show “Coffee Break Meetings” where people share their experiences.
We did our best to mimic the best aspects of physical communication in a digital realm to keep corporate culture great.
The year 2021 highlighted the importance of having an advanced corporate ecosystem and proved the viability of the new working model, which we introduced in 2017 under a name “Be Free” which allowed our employees to choose remote working days. We believe that freedom increases employee satisfaction which directly influences productivity and customer satisfaction.
Q. How did the telecommunications market change during the pandemic, what were the major opportunities?
A. The pandemic has increased the role of telecom from delivering information to becoming the backbone of communication. Online presence was increasing several-fold and as a service provider to over a million of people, we had to understand users’ present and future needs. We started to envision services that would engage users daily and have cases of many successful digital products.
We partnered up with a Canadian music streaming giant Stingray Music and made millions of their tracks available as an additional benefit for purchasing our products. We also noticed great demand in language-learning apps, therefore we made a deal with a foreign language learning app Busuu.
These all are an on-top utility bundle that users get for purchasing services and they brought us great customer feedback.
As online learning became ever so important during the pandemics, Beeline also continued a CSR project in collaboration with Educare Georgia to bring Khan Academy lessons to Georgian students. We have supported the translation of their courses in the Georgian language and making them accessible to the Georgian audience free of charge. Besides, Beeline continues to support startup events and the development of the digital ecosystem in Georgia. Beeline sponsored several events in the technology and digital fields, such as Entrepreneurship World Cup Georgia, Nasa Space Apps Challenge, DigiEduHack.
A deep understanding of users’ needs and our international experience helps us to choose the kind of digital products that our customers ask for and need.
Q. How did consumer behaviour change, what is engagement with your products?
A. Our strategy has been honed towards offering simple-to-get primary services with complementary products under the ecosystem oriented toward simplifying daily lives. These primary services indicate how our users interact with us.
Usage of the My Beeline app which provides self-services with far beyond 1 million downloads in 2019, has been growing rapidly from 2020 to 2021, amassing half a million active monthly users which is almost half of our user base. Receiving services through our website is also very popular with users and it is noteworthy that 90% of website logins are from a mobile device, giving Beeline one of the largest smartphone user bases.
Beeline was the first in Georgia to launch a 100% online service for receiving an E-SIM – an electronic sim card that is embedded on your smartphone. Fully automated, online process to obtain an Embed sim is rare even among the world’s telecom companies.
We have also introduced an AI powered chatbot that fulfils all of our services in Georgian language and large screen service terminals at our shops, which became especially popular during the pandemic.
These are the products that enable our users to get any service from us anytime. These alongside the abovementioned digital products are part of the sophisticated ecosystem that has been in the making since 2015.
Q. What were the network development stages, how will Nokia deal upgrade beeline?
A. With the desire to offer the best user experience, we are fully upgrading our core and radio networks with cutting edge Nokia technology. The Finnish giant stands as a top-notch equipment provider for the telecommunications industry that provides great user benefits such as advanced European standards in consumer data privacy, better and faster connectivity and network stability.
User privacy has always been an important objective at Beeline and the European standard data security will provide even more safety to our users data.
The technology also provides greater network stability, error minimization, connection speed and will enable us to implement even more digital products with ease. For example, with the new technology Beeline users will no longer have to register on apps like Stingray and entering the number is all it will take to enjoy the premium features.
In the 21st century users need simplicity and data security – these are the top strategic priorities that the new Nokia technology will help us develop to create an superior digital ecosystem.
Q. Where was the strategy born, what is Beeline’s ultimate goal?
A. We have always looked forward to the future while seeing the bigger picture. In 2015 we were the first company to introduce the 4th generation LTE internet data and we begin focusing on developing internet products.
The same year, we launched our eCommerce platfrom and digital services. User engagement was not high at the time, however, this was the necessary backbone to shape consumer behaviour. We oriented on making our services as smooth as possible. This was the core reason why we followed up with products such as the chatbot, applications, the website, sim vending machines, self-service terminals and much more.
We aimed to encourage online purchases and make them simple and users began to provide their feedback. The information about users’ needs enables us to come up with the right strategy and offer relevant products.
One of such products, for example will be a cloud service, to which we will be oriented in 2022. Today’s smartphones allow for creation of a large amount of content, however the memory capacity to hold this information is not enough. Users are often resorted to use expensive cloud services, therefore we intend to make cloud service affordable to everyone in the Georgian market.