8 Sep 2009

Looking at Turkey's telecoms market in times of increased competition and economic challenges

This week I’m working on the programme of our next Eurasia Com event, covering the markets of Eastern Europe, the Caspian and Central Asia regions. The region's major market being Turkey, I've been spending a bit of time looking into its ins and outs, and it is definitely an interesting market to watch.

Although often described as an emerging market, it shows many of the characteristics of a fully developed one, as it is close to saturation with 65 million mobile subscriptions, has a healthy dose of competition and an effective regulatory regime - partly driven by Turkey’s application to enter the European Union, as it needs to integrate EU regulation to its own system.

The telecom market is largely dominated by mobile, led by regional group Turkcell (55% market share), followed by Vodafone (23.5% share, showing great improvement after 3 poor quarters up to 1Q09),and Avea (incumbent Türk Telekom’s mobile arm, with 19% share). Competition was increased by the launch of mobile number portability in 2008 and will be affected again by the imminent entry of MVNOs. All operators are looking at customer retention strategies, as well as new services to increase loyalty and reduce the impact of lower ARPUs. Mobile broadband, made possible by the recently awarded 3G licenses, is a strong strategy for operators to generate new revenues from advanced data services.

Turkey’s economy has been badly affected by the global downturn. Its GDP dropped, and unemployment is rife, particularly among the young. How is this affecting telecoms ? Subscription additions have gone down since the beginning of the year, which is largely blamed on the economic crisis. But these tough conditions haven’t deterred the operators from investing heavily in their networks to take full advantage of the opportunities created by mobile broadband.

At the height of the economic panic, Turkcell’s CEO Suereyya Ciliv was keen to reassure the market on their investment plans, saying: "We will continue our 3G investments in order to maintain our leadership in 3G coverage and quality just like today. […] We are continuing to invest in Turkey and Turkey's future.” Avea CEO Cüneyt Türktan went further, saying "We might even increase our investments and create further job opportunities in the Turkish market". Meanwhile, Vodafone confirmed that they were to invest $750m in 2009. To top this positive trend, Türk Telekom was named Turkey's most valuable trademark by independent brand-valuation consultancy Brand Finance and Capital magazine, in a research conducted to gauge how brands are holding up in the economic downturn.

As the world slowly gets its finances together, Turkey will continue to be a market to watch. Its unique position (between Europe and Asia, and between emerging and developed) gives it an opportunity to pioneer innovative strategies and business models, and be a trendsetter in the region.

And to finish on another note… When I tuned into the BBC breakfast news programme this morning, they were announcing a big merger between two telecoms operators that would change the face of the market. My first reaction was one of surprise: I immediately thought of the MTN-Bharti deal, but in my experience, European media aren’t very interested in emerging markets (unless it is to announce a natural disaster or political turmoil). I soon realised my mistake, as they were talking about the T-Mobile/Orange talks in the UK. Interesting news I concede (particularly as a customer), but not quite as exciting as the other one.