Axiata’s edotco to ‘sex up’ the telco tower business
By Goh Thean Eu November 23, 2015
- More to towers than just construction; design and innovation matter
- Company aims to increase market share from 17% to 20% within a year
TO most of us, the telecommunications tower industry can seem quite boring – after all, the business mainly involves building and maintaining structures in which mobile operators can install their equipment, for a fee.
But edotco Group Sdn Bhd chief executive officer Suresh Sidhu (pic above) is hoping to add a dose of ‘sexy’ into the business.
“There’s more to this business than just four-leg or three-leg towers – it involves a lot of innovation,” he said at edotco’s recent Innovation Day event in Kuala Lumpur.
Suresh said that innovation in the industry can come from all angles – from the way towers are designed, to the more business aspects of re-defining the tower-leasing concept.
“As an independent tower company, we need to efficiently manage costs, resources and time. In response to this, innovative methods, systems or procedures are required,” he argued.
edotco is a regional tower company wholly-owned by Axiata Group Bhd. It not only services companies within the Axiata Group, but also other mobile operators.
Suresh was formerly the chief corporate and operations officer of Celcom Axiata Bhd, before taking the edotco helm in August, 2014.
Innovation a key differentiator
For edotco, being innovative is more than just a “marketing gimmick,” Suresh declared, but an essential tool for it to stand out against other telco tower companies in the region.
Today, edotco, which is in the midst of finalising the acquisition of Myanmar Tower Company, has over 15,000 towers under its portfolio.
Once the Myanmar deal is completed, it will have 16,200 towers across six countries, including Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Cambodia and Pakistan.
While having 16,000-plus towers may seem like overkill, it is only a small fraction compared with what other tower companies in Asia have.
For example, India’s Indus Towers, owned by Vodafone India, Aditya Birla Telecom and Bharti Infratel Ltd (a subsidiary of Bharti Airtel Ltd), has more than 117,579 towers.
China Tower, a venture firm which China’s three main mobile operators have stakes in, has potentially more than 700,000 towers in its portfolio.
Within Malaysia itself, edotco has some 3,600 sites, giving it a market share of approximately 17%. Other players in this space include Maxis Bhd, OCK Group Bhd and Asiaspace Sdn Bhd.
Since it does not dominate the tower space, there is an urgent need for edotco to focus on the things that matter to mobile operators: Operational efficiency and total cost of ownership.
Sometime early next year, edotco will launch Malaysia’s, and perhaps the region’s, first carbon fibre telecommunications tower.
There are several benefits to using carbon fibre towers, as opposed to the conventional steel towers – they are lighter, take up less real estate space, and can be installed much more quickly.
“In some cases, local authorities will come to us and say, ‘This is the only available space that I can allow you to use’,” said edotco director of engineering Kumari Nalini Subramaniam.
“Using the traditional steel structure, I can’t fit [a tower] in that space. So in these cases, carbon fibre can be a viable option,” she added.
Meanwhile, Suresh said that edotco also plans to unveil the country’s first base transceiver station (BTS) ‘hotel.’
A BTS hotel is a new concept in deploying wireless networks. Imagine having a township that needs 10 BTS sites for a complete coverage. The traditional method would result in mobile operators deploying equipment on each of the 10 towers.
With a BTS hotel, these 10 sites will be equipped with a neutral antenna, and all the mobile operators would need to do is to deploy their equipment at a centralised base station equipment room.
“We will be launching the country’s first BTS hotel in one to two months. We are also in talks with a property developer to deploy 20 BTSes – details will be revealed in due course,” Suresh said.
edotco is also looking at various ways to power its base stations, especially those that are off-grid, using solar power and lithium-ion batteries.
The company also announced that it recently launched the ‘echo’ remote monitoring and management system, which has been rolled out to 5,000 sites. The plan is to have it implemented at all its sites over the next two years.
“echo is a next-generation solution that automates and optimises operational processes, performance and visibility, 24x7,” said Suresh.
“This system reduces manpower hours on the site, and efficiently manages issues remotely from the echo centre.
“By minimising dependency on manual operations and increasing operational efficiency, edotco is able to respond and address issues immediately as they arise.
“Through echo, edotco gains invaluable insights that add value to customer relationships,” he added.
By helping mobile operators save costs and be more efficient, edotco hopes that it can become the benchmark company for telecommunications infrastructure sharing.
“This is an aggressive target – we hope to achieve it in three to five years,” said Suresh (pic).
The company also aims to increase its market share in Malaysia from the current 17% to 20% by sometime next year.
It also hopes to increase its ‘tenancy per tower’ numbers over the next 12 months. Currently, edotco has an average tenancy of above 1.5 tenants per tower. It aims to hit 1.7-1.8 in the near term, and above two per tower in the long term.
Suresh appears confident that the company can hit these targets.
“I believe we will ... as we are able to provide our customers significant cost savings and a lower total cost of ownership,” he said.
“The signs are showing growth trends. When we started about a year ago, our average tenancy was at below 1.4 tenants per tower,” he added.
Suresh said that it is not just the technology that edotco deploys that will be the key differentiator, but also its operations.
“Currently, it takes three to six months for tower companies to acquire a landbank. We want to be more proactive in terms of acquiring sites – once we have the sites, we will get the customers to come on board,” said Suresh.
He added that the company is also looking at merger-and-acquisition opportunities, but stressed it is not looking at large tower companies.
He hopes to be able to find opportunities with smaller companies, especially those with about 10-20 good-quality towers.
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