PARTNER CONTENT: Dr. Sulaiman Abdulaziz Mirdad, CEO of Lebara KSA, shared the company’s journey from MVNO start-up focused on international residences to serving a wider audience with a diverse portfolio in the hyper-competitive Saudi Arabia market.

Lebara shifted its focus to become a full-service MVNO to better serve its customers after facing a number of growing pains in its first 12 to 18 months of operation.

In an interview with Win Win Live, Mirdad explained that in 2021 it pursued a new strategy by expanding its product portfolio to new segments and made a significant investment to develop digital services.

“This has served us very well.”

He noted the company discovered it needed to move from being a “light MVNO” to a full MVNO to be more nimble and able to serve customers’ changing requirements by first gaining their trust.

That move led to Lebara becoming one of the first MVNOs in the world to deploy a full stack of IT applications and a core network, Mirdad added.

The company has approximately 2.5 million customers and serves a significant part of outgoing traffic in Saudi Arabia. “We handle roughly 30 per cent all KSA international traffic, even though we are an MVNO.”

The operator, launched in 2014, was one of the first MVNOs licensed in Saudi Arabia and an early pioneer in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.

“Like any other MVNO, we are a customer-centric organisation. We found an area that’s poorly served in Saudi Arabia – international residents,” Mirdad said.

Next steps
The Saudi Arabian market is hyper-competitive.

Given the level of competition in the market, the company had little choice but to look in a new direction to expand revenue streams and diversify its portfolio, Mirdad stated.

“We embarked on a challenging yet ambitious strategy moving forward. We are looking at different products and a variety of segments, which must be supported by significant investment and efforts to introduce new digital services.”

While there are different types of MVNOs, Mirdad said Lebara is unique as it is able to attract a diverse set of customers, comprising both local and international residents, and young and older age groups.

It also created a B2B customer base, which it expects will be a major revenue stream in future.

By delivering an end-to-end portfolio of services to B2B clients, it doesn’t rely only on being a telecoms provider. “We look at partnerships with solution and service providers to offer a range of services,” he said.

A number of partnerships were announced in LEAP KSA 2023 in early February. The company renewed an existing agreement with Mobily until 2026. More were revealed at Mobile World Congress Barcelona 2023.

Upgraded capabilities
With its new strategy and focus, the operator worked to significantly improve its ability to introduce digital services, such as adding analytics to be able to enhance the product mix to better cater to customers’ needs.

Mirdad said it also working on its e-channels, expanding its reach and offering different customers with affordable, high-quality services. This involved working closely with the customer service group.

One example is adding an AI-based chat service as a way to better communicate with customers.

“Over the last couple of years, we’ve achieved a significant part of our targets and accumulated quite a few accomplishments.”

Milestones include doubling data traffic year-on-year and boosting its business customer base by 30 per cent to 35 per cent annually. In addition, adoption of its e-channel apps increased last year by 50 per cent.

“All this reflects the trust our customers have in our brand and our services.”

Long-term partner
Mirdad highlighted it started working with Huawei just months after launching MVNO service, with the vendor supporting its migration from its host MNO to its own core network in just seven months.

He insisted the seven-year relationship with Huawei is not only a technology partnership, with technical products and services supplied. “We look at the company as part of our team which shares in our growth and our success.  We also look at Huawei as a management and technical service arm that makes sure we are always providing the latest and greatest to our customers.”

The company recently signed an MoU to migrate from its current Huawei platform to a new cloud core network. “This hopefully will provide new customer solutions and products to our customers over the next few years.”