Discussing Mobile Telecom Services in Kuwait with Benoit Janin of Virgin Mobile Middle East and Africa

Benoit Janin shares his assessment of the mobile telecom services sector in Kuwait and gives an overview of Virgin Mobile Middle East and Africa, the leading mobile virtual network operator in the MENA region. He also talks about investment opportunities in the telecom industry and shares his medium term vision for Virgin Mobile in Kuwait.

Interview with Benoit Janin, CEO Kuwait at Virgin Mobile Middle East and Africa

Benoit Janin, CEO Kuwait at Virgin Mobile Middle East and Africa

What is your assessment of the mobile telecom services sector in Kuwait?

On the one hand, Kuwait sounds like a very saturated market because the mobile penetration is close to 150%. The mobile internet penetration is one of the highest in the world, if not the highest. Data consumption is actually the highest in the world. Social media penetration is super high. On the other hand, the market somehow is very standard. What the major players are doing is quite similar from one to another. They have similar offers, they have similar type of quality of service, the same on the network side in terms of customer service, etc. There are not many differentiations in the market, and this is where we definitely have a role to play. Our goal here is not to become the market leader, but we have some very specific target segments where we want to be the leading player.

What will Virgin Mobile bring to the market? How will you differentiate yourself?

Virgin Mobile Middle East and Africa is the leading mobile virtual network operator in the MENA region with a specific focus on GCC. So, it was a natural decision for us to decide to pursue the opportunity to enter the Kuwaiti market when the regulator here, CITRA, decided to go on for MVNO license. Our purpose at Virgin Mobile is to make mobile better. We are very excited about the opportunity to delightfully surprise our consumers because we have an authentic approach to mobile, heartfelt service, and we really want to give them a first class customer experience. We want to provide them with a platform to celebrate creativity. Quite simply, we want our customers to fall in love with mobile all over again.

Will you be presenting new tools or services?

The key thing that we are bringing here is a 100% digital proposition. We are almost more of an app player than a traditional telecom. Our digital app really eliminates the old school ways of getting mobile. We are bringing it up to date with the latest technology and we are changing the game. We use innovation to change people’s lives with more data, more content offers, and we want to put our customers fully in control, as everything can be accessed through the app. The onboarding and the acquisition of customers will be done through the app. What we are bringing that is really new is that you can download the app, order the SIM card, get it delivered within record time, get activated, all that in one hour sitting on your couch. It is quite interesting when you think about it because beyond the digital aspect of it in this pandemic context, that is actually the safest way to become a mobile user today. Everything is accessible through the app. You can select the exact number of minutes and data you need, you can select if you want international calls or if you want roaming, you can go for some predefined plans or you can build your own plan, you onboard through the app, you contact the customer service through the app, you buy your streaming services through the app. That is really where the industry is going. Our app has been winning awards for years. It is the best practice in terms of telecom apps today and for tomorrow.

What has been the company growth over the past few years?

We are a 100% digital player, but one thing we understand today, is that at the end, customers want to be able to talk to us. That is really something that is key, even in the digital world.

Virgin Mobile is one of the businesses of the Virgin Group, which is one of the world’s most recognized and respected brands. It was conceived in 1970 by Sir Richard Branson and it has spanned multiple sectors. Today, Virgin is present in travel and leisure, health and wellness, music and entertainment, telecoms and media, financial services, and space which is quite interesting. Virgin Mobile now is a premier MVNO industry. Virgin Mobile was launched in the UK in 1999 and now operates in multiple countries across the world serving millions of customers. More specifically, Virgin Mobile Middle East and Africa is part of the Virgin family group of companies. We have been operating in the GCC region since 2007. We are headquartered in Dubai, UAE. What we want to provide to our customers is really innovative products and packages designed to make the overall mobile experience better. Today, we are delivering an all-around, amazing mobile experience to people in Oman, Saudi Arabia, and with a partnership with the EITC in the UAE. Now, with Kuwait, we are demonstrating our intention to keep investing and expanding in the region.

What are the main challenges that the company is facing?

Currently, we are setting up operations in Kuwait. This will be including hiring a lot of Kuwaiti local talents. Right now, the group function will lead the setup of the operations, but it will be our local Kuwait staff that will run and operate the business going forward. We are actually very impressed with the level of skill and how talented the local workforce is. The only challenge is attracting people into the private sector. We have a large majority of the Kuwaiti labor force working within public administration. We are confident that the local Kuwaiti workforce will join us and enjoy their career with Virgin. The Group team that will be helping with setting up the business here in Kuwait will be replaced over time and move onwards to new assignments. For example, today, our CEO in Oman is a female Omani. We are also going to locate our head office in Kuwait City with a modern, open office design made to inspire the employees to create the very best digital experience for the Kuwaiti consumer. So, we will be adding all our staff in one office to ensure we work as smoothly as possible as a team to make mobile better in Kuwait. We have a challenge in attracting the best local talents but we are confident that we can do it with our company culture and with the setup we are building right now for our organization.

What are the investment opportunities in the sector and even for the company itself?

It is a very promising context. The pandemic has accelerated the digital transformation of the industry. We have all experienced remote work and video conferences through this period. In terms of content, the streaming services have really boomed since the beginning of the pandemic. We have seen some new players really exploding and skyrocketing growth. This will not change. After the pandemic, we will be where we should have been in 8 or 10 years’ time. The real opportunity for us, and why we keep investing in the region, is that we are really the digital player in the telecom industry in the region. With our app, our digital proposition, we are really ahead and we are better positioned than the others to grab the growth of the digital industry and the telecom digital industry. It is a really exciting time ahead of us.

What do you want to have achieved in five years’ time? What is your medium term vision?

We aim to become the most loved brand in the country when it comes to mobile and innovation. We want to be recognized as the leading digital provider here in Kuwait in the coming five years. In addition to that, we strive to be the preferred employer in Kuwait by offering career plans and development within our vibrant Virgin culture. We are going to hire and train young Kuwait talents. We want to set a brilliant example of high standards for the industry and for the other sectors here in Kuwait. Sir Richard Branson is very engaged with anything to do with the employees. He is always saying employees first, then customers, then shareholders, and in line with this group culture, it is really something that we want to replicate here in the market of Kuwait.

What has been the journey to establishing yourself in Kuwait so far?

We really had strong support and continuous support from government institutions like KDIPA and CITRA, the telecom regulator, during the whole process of our license filing and company inception. KDIPA is strongly attracting and encouraging foreign investors to start their businesses in Kuwait by providing various incentives and guarantees for the purpose of enhancing technology transfer and settlement. As a result, we are proud to be the only successful MVNO to have obtained a new telecommunications license and we are thrilled to be the fourth operator to enter the Kuwait market, bringing our unique digital proposition to mobile users in the country. Without that support from the public institutions and the government, we would not have been able to be successful in this process.

What are your competitive advantages?

We pride ourselves in being “phygital” which is basically a distribution approach. We have an online and digital approach. We are a 100% digital player, but one thing we understand today, and again, the pandemic context to understand it even further, is that at the end, customers want to be able to talk to us. That is really something that is key, even in the digital world. We all have the experience of struggling when you are trying to contact a customer service and you only have those online menus and there are whole panels of answers to your question, but never the very specific one that you have. So, sometimes, you need that human interaction. That is what we call the “phygital” approach. It is the mix of all digital tools together with some physical presence. Here in Kuwait, we want to be present in the key malls and in some strategic locations to address our customers, to answer their queries, to interact with them, to better understand them. For instance, some years ago, at the time of Steve Jobs, there was the conversation of whether Apple should do physical stores or not and they did in the end. The conclusion was clear. Let’s digitalize as much as possible on our overall approach, but let’s not forget some human touch points in the journey of the consumer. I strongly believe that in the end, that is the only way to really deliver a first class, international customer experience to our customers here in Kuwait or elsewhere in the world.

What is the next step in bringing Virgin Mobile to Kuwait?

Personally, I am very excited to be here in Kuwait running this project. When you really start from A to Z, everything has to be done. It is greenfield. You need to understand the market, you need to talk to the people, you need to visit the shops, you need to see what the competitors are doing, you need to diversify your competitive advantages. Then, the picture gets clearer. Now, we are going to embark on the hiring campaign so that is very exciting. We are ready to hire all those talents from the senior management team to customer care agents. We train them, we coach them, and in three, five, ten years they will become senior managers, they would evolve into the organization, eventually, they will have opportunities to go to all operations from our Group. You always have, as in any startup, challenges that you did not anticipate. So, it is all about how you react to this and how positively you react to this. From challenges you create opportunities. Again, the pandemic has been for the digital world almost an opportunity in the sense that it is accelerating things. Before, I had been working more in large international groups, in well-established entities and operations. Now, basically, if I want this to be a success story, it is all in my hands and in my team’s hands. We are in between working for a group and almost building your own company. That is really exciting.

What is your inspiration, personally? What is this drive that you have to be in this business, be in the sector, be in this company right now at this point in time?

I have been working for different telecom groups before. Actually, I was already in contact with Virgin Mobile for some years. We never had the right opportunity at the right time to work together, though. There were some attempts in the past. I have always been interested in this culture. Again, Sir Richard Branson is really a very well-known character and very interesting person. I love this whole thing about employees first, the culture around innovation, around entrepreneurship, around freedom. The Group is even investing in the space industry. The Group is looking forward and looking to the future. In the large telecoms and traditional groups, you cannot find this entrepreneurial spirit, these hands-on aspects of the business. That is clearly the Virgin culture that is super exciting. So, here I am. I have been working all over the world on almost all continents, many countries. I had not worked before in the Middle East, so that was part of the challenge and one of the exciting factors for me to come to this part of the world knowing that it is a very advanced market. This is probably one of the most digital markets in the world. The mobile internet penetration is the highest. Social networks penetration also is among the highest in the world. All the networks are 5G. That is quite interesting for someone like me who has been in the industry for so long.


This material (including media content) may not be published, broadcasted, rewritten, or redistributed. However, linking directly to the page (including the source, i.e. Marcopolis.net) is permitted and encouraged.

Scroll to top