PARTNER CONTENT: Mila Kusheva, CMO with Smart Axiata, explained why sustainability is now just as important to the Cambodian operator’s development strategy as that of its Malaysia-based parent company, in turn forming a core of its efforts to deliver a digital society.

In an interview with Mobile World Live at Win Win Live extended reality studio at MWC Barcelona 2024, Kusheva delved into the four key pillars of Smart’s sustainability programme, namely advancing a digital society; green economy; people and community; and governance and risk.

“These four pillars are embedded in everything we do” Kusheva said.

The CMO noted Smart’s sustainability focus is driving more than just its own growth. She pointed to the operator’s “role as a very important player in” Cambodia’s economy, noting it contributed “more than $225 million” to the nation’s wealth in 2022, along with generating “more than $370 million in gross value, which represents 1.3 per cent” of the country’s GDP.

“That’s our contribution to the development of the country, to the people of Cambodia and to the entire business community”.

Kusheva explained Smart is “strongly synchronised” with the Pentagonal Strategy, a government programme covering areas including society, economic diversity and national competitiveness, “supporting education and skills development”.

When it unveiled the strategy in 2023, the government stated it aimed to fuel growth in “employment, equity, efficiency and sustainability”, establishing a foundation “to achieve the vision of Cambodia 2050”.

Fields including human capital development; economic diversification; development of the private sector; creating employment opportunities; progressing a digital economy and society; and resilient, sustainable and inclusive advances “are in absolute synchrony with everything that we do on a daily basis”, Kusheva said, adding Smart believes it contributes strongly to them.

“Through these alignments, we are not just building technological progress, but also fostering sustainable and inclusive growth across the nation”.

The executive noted Smart’s efforts to advance Cambodia’s digital society inevitably centres around providing connectivity.

While conceding this is a field in which the company is not alone, Kusheva argued Smart is set apart from its competitors by the way it combines multiple technologies to provide equal access to the internet “for all the people”.

Smart is combining 4G, microwave and fixed-line connectivity, an approach which “provides us flexibility in terms of solutions and offerings to the consumer and home user”.

The operator’s focus is not solely on consumers and connectivity: Kusheva explained it is also introducing various business automation services, pointing to the launch of its Smart for Business suite in 2023, offering more than 15 services for SMEs which “address different business verticals” to enable such companies to “become more efficient, faster and digitally-driven”.

With great power comes great responsibility, a factor Kusheva explained Smart is aware of, particularly when it comes to digital security for consumer and business customers.

Kusheva highlighted Smart’s next generation signalling firewall (NGSF) and intrusion detection system (IDS) as the “latest technology” deployed to “safeguard our network and protect our customers’ data”.

“One of the key features of the NGSF is its comprehensive cross-protocol signalling firewall platform, covering protocols such as SS7, diameter and GTP.”

Network efficiency
Smart is not resting on those laurels, with Kusheva highlighting its use of technology to “become better and more efficient” when it comes to meeting and delivering on its strategic objectives.

The executive explained achieving net-zero carbon emissions is a key target.

In 2021, parent Axiata Group set the target of becoming net zero by 2050 and has since commenced a validation process with the Science Based Targets initiative to verify its goals.

Kusheva said 2023 was an important year for Smart’s contribution to the group’s sustainability goals, after it introduced what it claimed as the world’s first FDD Tri-Mid-band 8T8R network, based on Huawei’s next-generation GigaGreen radio, which doubles the capacity of traditional base stations.

The Smart CMO said the deployment delivers more efficient power sharing across the Cambodian operator’s existing frequency bands, employing a “groundbreaking antenna” which expands coverage “by up to 20 per cent without increasing energy expenditure”.

A deployment in Cambodian capital city Phnom Penh “substantially alleviated” mobile traffic congestion, “resulting in notable improvements in the city’s network quality”.

Smart also tapped Huawei’s PowerStar 2.0, an “intelligent shutdown” technology which lowers energy consumption “during periods of low demand”.

The operator is implementing more than just network and technology upgrades as part of its sustainable development strategy. Kusheva cited activities around reducing the use of plastics by deploying eSIMs, along with promoting digital literacy, an element which also plays into Smart’s efforts around diversity, equality and inclusion.

“We are having consistent training programs for our employees, which we are using in order to develop new skills relevant for the digital economy”.

The CMO believes emerging technologies highlighted during the recent MWC24 will only help Smart’s sustainable development strategy, in particular AI which will “help us to improve our customer service and be more relevant” by providing the “right offers through the right channel at the right time”.

There are obvious network operation benefits to be derived from AI in terms of advanced analytics: Kusheva said Smart had already taken significant steps towards this, “building a comprehensive understanding” of its network performance and how its services are used.

“But there are many more things that we can develop”, Kusheva said, highlighting a desire to “be more proactive and relevant” when designing new products by using knowledge of who its users are to deliver services in a way which is “so intuitive that the customers don’t need strong education in order to adopt them in their daily life”.

Smart employs deep analytics in its “next-generation Self Care app”, which employs customer data and other individual parameters to help them make “relevant decisions” about their usage, services and digital engagement “without depending on the operator”.

Kusheva said the customer is key to Smart’s sustainable development, which is why it is as committed to delivering the latest opportunities deriving from technological advances to all of its users as it is to putting “robust customer protection measures” in place.