Phone wars: Bmobile ready to take on the competition, says CEO


With lower prices, and more investment in customer service and infrastructure, the CEO of state-owned telco Bmobile says it is ‘competition ready’ in the face of a dominant market leader and a new competitor due later this year.

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Bmobile’s Athula Biyanwila [second from left] during a conference in December last year in Port Moresby. Credit: Bmobile/Facebook

Athula Biyanwila, CEO of Bmobile, is in a fighting mood as he announces to Business Advantage PNG that there will be a third telco coming to the Papua New Guinea towards the end of 2020.

Vodafone Fiji will come into the market this year and it is anticipating arriving by September,’ he says. ‘But we don’t feel it will be competitive for another 12 to 18 months, there will not be much competition for us from a third operator because we are competition-ready.’

‘We have reduced mobile pricing by nearly 80 per cent, both call rates and data rates … Now 10GB of data costs K55 for 30 days. That would have cost K200 last year.’

This confidence stems from the major transformation that the company has undergone in the past 12 months. Bmobile now has use of sister company Telikom PNG’s 4G network on top of its own network. Thanks to this, and the advent of the Coral Sea Cable and domestic Kumul Submarine Cable Network, Bmobile has been able to completely overhaul its business, offering cheaper calls and data as well as a better service.

‘We have reduced mobile pricing by nearly 80 per cent, both call rates and data rates,’ Biyanwila says. ‘Now 10GB of data costs K55 for 30 days. That would have cost K200 last year.’

The new competitive pricing has led to a surge in usage, with Bmobile handling double the data volumes since the price fall and also expanding its customer base and offerings.

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Bmobile’s store at Jacksons International Airport. Credit: BAI

As well as the improved bandwidth delivered by the cables, the mobile phone provider has also been upgrading its SMS and USSD systems, modernising its microwave systems, and introducing customer-facing improvements such as online billing.’

Biyanwila says Bmobile also has plans to expand its network further, subject to funding and government approvals.

‘We have about 600 base stations now and that will grow to 860, so that is a major expansion of the network,’ Biyanwila says. The Bmobile network currently covers about 80 per cent of the population, and the growth should help smaller villages get access to mobile services.

‘We have challenges around the landowners … so maintenance is difficult.’

But keeping on top of the poles and wires does not come without its challenges.


‘First we have challenges around the landowners not allowing access due to tribal disagreements or issues related to violence in an area, so maintenance is difficult,’ he says. ‘The second problem is physical access to that area because of deteriorated road surfaces and infrastructure.’

To tackle this issue some of the mountain top installations use helicopters for routine maintenance but the challenge is keeping the network up to date and the company’s costs down, allowing it to better compete with the market leader, Digicel.

‘They would have between 85 to 90 per cent of the market and we have probably 10 to 12 per cent,’ the Bmobile boss concedes. ‘But we are getting customers from Digicel. Users have another viable option now: they buy another SIM [card] from us. So many people have one handset but two SIMs.’

Biyanwila is looking forward a positive outlook for PNG’s telecommunication sector, as access to technology improves.

‘Customers will be able to access more content, that is what we are excited about: providing more content in-country,’ he says. ‘We also want to host more cloud-based applications.’

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