Within four weeks of joining Turkcell as CEO, Kaan Terzioglu made his impact by redefining the company as an integrated telecoms and technology provider, with the aim of closely integrating fixed and mobile.

Now, after just over two months in the hot seat at Turkey’s largest mobile operator (an appointment that also makes him a new GSMA board member) Terzioglu spoke to Mobile World Live last week about his plans to expand Turkcell’s reach internationally, his strategy for 4G in the country once the government eventually holds its license tender, and his view on the future of Turkey’s telecoms market. And we learnt that he owns a blue cat…

MWL: You’ve been in the role for just a matter of weeks. How are you settling in?
KT: It’s been fantastic. To be honest, it hasn’t felt like only 60 or so days. It’s felt like I’ve been on this journey with Turkcell for the last 20 years. We have now built all the assets, the network and there is real customer focus and brand strategy for us to become a major pillar for technology to succeed and grow in this country. In the last two months, we have been looking at how to integrate Turkcell Turkey and Turkcell International. We believe Turkey is our best practice operation and we now want to take these learnings out to countries where we wish to expand. After my trip to London, I will be flying to Ukraine ahead of our 3G launch and we are also looking at Belarus and other surrounding countries.

MWL: There’s been a lot of reports recently about the 4G situation in Turkey. How important is it for Turkcell to secure 4G spectrum once the auction eventually comes around?
KT: It is absolutely essential that we secure spectrum when it comes around, but I try not to commit to exactly what we will be launching and where at this stage. Operators have a mission to provide the right services to consumers and we will roll out 4G, but we need to judge the pace and how we will do it.

This strategy led to healthy dialogue with the government and we saw a postponement of the standard as a result. The tender in August will now be technology agnostic and it will be catered to the needs of the country, not just the operators. We welcome dialogue with the government, which is healthy for any country to have and if there is any way we can contribute to the state we will.

MWL: How competitive do you believe the tender will be? Do you think prices will be very high?
KT: I hope not because I don’t believe that charging high for any licences has value for the government. It might create a short term hero status but in the long run it will destroy the value of the country. I remember the first 3G tender in the UK that, in effect, had a big bearing towards the 2001 crash. At the time they must have congratulated each other for screwing the market, but this is not the way to go. I hope regulators do not allow us to compete at crazy levels because as companies we have a tendency to do that.

“I remember the first 3G tender in the UK that, in effect, had a big bearing towards the 2001 crash. At the time they must have congratulated each other for screwing the market, but this is not the way to go.”

MWL: Is there enough demand in Turkey now for 4G?
KT: Turkish consumers have a high appetite for mobile. Since the launch of 3G, consumption of data has increased 335 times. I expect this trend to continue because we are seeing Turkey set new records for broadband data consumption every day. Despite a lack of 4G, we have one of the most advanced 3.5G networks in the world and we do have enough capacity to satisfy mobile demand for the next 18 months by utilising our mobile network, WiFi offloading and small cells, even without 4G.

MWL: It is widely known that Turkey is traditionally a late adopter of technology. As a telecoms CEO, would you advise this as the best strategy for the country?
KT: When you are an operator, you look at how you can get vital technology cheapest. In that sense, adopting technology late is an advantage. But, you must ask yourself, as a country, if you’d rather be thought of as a consumer, a producer or a contributor. Either, you are late, and buy it cheap, or you are first and buy it expensive. I also have this dilemma, and I think it’s a healthy debate. Perhaps when 5G comes around, we could be more active in exploring these technologies early.

5gMWL: Speaking of 5G, there has been some talk from Turkey’s president about the possibility of entirely skipping 4G and going straight to 5G. Is this realistic?
KT: I think, naturally, any dream sounds unrealistic to begin with. When President Kennedy once said we’ll get to the moon, people thought he was crazy. If people are dreaming, then they have a passion. Maybe it’s not going to happen in two years, maybe it will be four years and by that time we will have deployed 4G. I think it’s important to dream something. And from that perspective I respect such an ambition and target and I think it’s a good indication that Turkey wants to play an integral part of the future of technology.

“Any dream sounds unrealistic to begin with. When President Kennedy once said we’ll get to the moon, people thought he was crazy.”

MWL: Why has it taken almost eight years for Turkey to get 4G connectivity?
KT: Fundamentally, we are missing something in this space. The biggest impact I want to have is in the digital infrastructure space. We have been struggling to deploy the right infrastructure and fibre for so many years. Even if we did deploy 4G tomorrow, if we don’t find the right solution for fibre in every city and every building, we will struggle to use it. I ask, why is it taking so long and how can we accelerate it? I have asked the government that we should find quicker ways to deploy missing infrastructure and in telecoms, I don’t believe we should be subject to the rules the government implements on building highways and airports – it’s very different. If there is one thing to sort out, it’s this.

MWL: After your London trip, you are flying to Ukraine ahead of Turkcell’s 3G launch in the country. Is this part of a wider plan that reflects your international strategy?
KT: Our strategic assets, which we have built up over time, are important for us to roll out networks in other countries and create converged network platforms. By taking these assets, we will look to expand into markets where we have cultural affinity in central Asia, Balkans, the Middle East and North Africa. Our position in Turkey allows us to move fast and offer lower costs.

MWL: In your own words, what does an integrated telecoms and technology company mean and how does it differ from what defined Turkcell before you took over?
KT: I don’t think this transformation is a discontinuation to what we were doing before, but it’s more about building what we had and creating a unique proposition for our customers. It makes sense to combine and offer an integrated solution because of the appetite in Turkey for mobile broadband and fixed broadband. That’s why we decided to take our assets from Turkcell Superonline and our assets from Turkcell and create a true IP network. This not only allowed us to operate at low cost for our customers, but we are now able to create triple and quadplay services. You will also see us be more active in bringing over-the-top services to the market, and we’ll look to be more innovative than those types of companies. If I am able to bring that level of innovation to Turkcell, but use proper licencing, industrial scale and regulation, we can win the hearts of our customers and make a decent amount of money as well.

MWL: You have plans to leverage OTT services with your mobile operations. Do you see OTT as a threat and are you looking to compete in this space?
KT: First of all, I’m a big believer in same service and same rules. There has to be the right rules and regulations for all companies operating in a country. If there is one aim, it should be that we don’t kill a national industry for the sake of international openness. I don’t believe OTT is a threat as long as we apply the same rules for everything. If I buy a licence to operate, and I am complying with certain regulations, then it’s the fairest way for everyone. It’s all about striking the right balance. In Turkey, people watch TV for 130 hours a month, and those that watch it could also watch 140 hours of video on demand a month. If there is a demand for this service it should be delivered as long as the platform is taxed accordingly and regulated in the country.

“I’m a big believer in same service and same rules. There has to be the right rules and regulations for all companies operating in a country.”

MWL: Could you give our readers a background on yourself?
KT: I started my career as an auditor at financial company Arthur Andersen before moving to management consulting within the firm to focus on technology and spent 10 years there. After that I moved to Cisco for 12 years in various roles and in 2012 I came back to Turkey. Two months ago I was headhunted, which led me to Turkcell. I am very excited to join the telecoms industry and being part of such a great organisation like the GSMA is an added bonus. It came as a welcome surprise when I learned I am on the GSMA board, and I look forward to contributing.

MWL: What do you do away from Turkcell and how do you unwind?
KT: I love cooking, and I spend a lot of time on it. I also like to play golf, and I have a small boat which I use to go fishing. I also have a blue cat, a British shorthair, which occupies a lot of my time. This job is perfect for my personality because it has people interaction, there’s innovation, engineering, and working with bright, smart people, always giving one a sense of fulfillment.