Telecom Fiji – Fijian Company Punching Above its Weight
We learn how Telecom Fiji offers and maintains the telecommunications infrastructure of a unique market.
Operating for over 100 years in Fiji, Telecom Fiji Limited is now nothing less than the undisputed leader in integrated telecommunications, a summit the company reached by empowering Fijians and revolutionising the way they communicate, interact, entertain and do business with each other.
A 100 per cent Fijian owned organisation, Telecom Fiji has built a name for itself fostering meaningful and positive changes in people’s lives by offering information and communications technology-enabled services, applications and products. “We focus on fixed voice, internet and other ICT services. We serve all major segments of the market – from enterprise, government, residential, to a mix of all the industries and various customer segments,” says Charles Goundar, CEO of Telecom Fiji. “We are in charge of running and maintaining one of the oldest infrastructures in the country and we have a wide range of networks from mobile, fibre, microwave and satellite covering the entire Fiji island group. We provide services in telecommunications – voice and data.”
Telecom Fiji has a long and proud history that both tracks and underpins the ways technological advancement has significantly changed the way Fijians do business, with the company’s offers expanding regularly to match the evolving needs of their customers. However, throughout that story, the one thing that hasn’t changed is Telecom Fiji’s commitment to keeping the country connected, a promise that remains at the heart of everything it does.
The company’s roots go back as far as January 1st, 1900 when the business of the Department of Posts & Telecommunications was transferred to the new company, Fiji Posts & Telecommunication Limited, the firm that would eventually become Telecom Fiji. Since then the company has grown and developed alongside the telecommunications industry itself, introducing and updating various technological innovations and platforms in the country over time.
A recent example, in 2018, Telecom Fiji completed and commissioned a project that deployed a high-speed telecommunications optic fibre infrastructure spanning 90 km through the Rakiraki-Korovou domain along the King’s Road on Viti Levu. This is the most recent addition to Telecom’s existing optic fibre network of over 1,500 km that mainly covers the Queen’s Road corridor and business-centric areas. It forms a part of an overall greater project to extend their fibre network to most of Fiji and provide enhanced resiliency to their existing high-capacity transmission network.
Telecom Fiji is no slouch when it comes to the software side of services either, as reflected when they officially became a Gold Partner of Oracle in 2019, allowing them to greatly increase their specialisation and service provision on that front.
More Than The Just The Bottom Line
Their national broadband strategy to ensure greater accessibility, availability and affordability of internet and high-speed broadband connectivity to the people and businesses across Fiji; ensuring services match international standards, isn’t limited to just increasing profit margins.
Many remote and maritime regions in Fiji have access to the internet and other ICT services thanks to Telecom, despite it not necessarily being directly profitable. This is all in the service of reducing the digital divide, an issue prevalent in many countries around the world where technology is implemented at different paces in different places, whether due to remoteness or socio-economic barriers.
“We believe in doing work that is about more than just the bottom line or making a profit. We also want Fiji to thrive in the digital age,” explains Goundar. “Many of our projects, especially in extending telecommunications access to remote areas of Fiji, aren’t about making huge profits. Fiji has the potential to become the digital hub of the South Pacific, and we want to ensure that Fijians are not limited by a lack of access and have access to ICT services on par with global standards.”
Telecom Fiji takes its corporate social responsibilities very seriously and is an active participant in both community efforts, and their own initiatives such as their Telecom Fiji Ambrose Golf Tournament which contributes to charity. The most recent example was their bundle of COVID-19 relief packages which was notable for its deferment of disconnections in the case of customers unable to pay due to financial difficulties caused by the pandemic.
Throughout a century of work, however, there is one thing that hasn’t changed. “We focus on quality,” Goundar says simply. “That’s something that we have tried to entrench into our core values and we don’t necessarily compete on price. We come under pressure in different customer segments where price is more of a differentiator, yet we try to maintain a certain price point because we believe quality comes at a cost and our focus is good quality service to all our customers, whether residential or enterprise.”
A Big Fish in a Small Pond
That said, while Telecom Fiji is proud of their homeland and the part it plays in their company’s identity, working in Fiji brings with it unique challenges that aren’t faced by other national ICT providers.
“The fact that we’re in Fiji is a challenge in itself. We’re a big fish in a small pond without the scale to negotiate on pricing with our suppliers,” Goundar admits. “Unfortunately, we don’t have the volume to say we would like the pricing to be better than what it is, compared to other markets with large volumes to get lower cost of sale.” While for a large part, the pricing challenges are simply an occupational hazard, Telecom Fiji has developed a number of strategies to ensure they receive and can offer the best prices possible.
Goundar explains, “In some instances, we just have to live with the pricing. There’s not much we can do about it. We try to have a multi-vendor strategy, not only focusing on a particular supplier but having multiple suppliers so we can get a better sense of benchmark pricing. In other instances, however, we just have to accept that this is the way it is and live with it.” The other side of that challenge is that, with larger and more lucrative telecommunication companies working elsewhere, Fiji has to work hard to build its talent pool and incentivise it to stay at home.
“We have staff who move to greener pastures – neighbouring countries for better opportunities. There are times when we’ve lost a lot of technical resources overnight and in telecommunications losing experience is really hard to replace,” Goundar says. “It can take years of training to build that sort of capability so losing it is tough.”
The company has developed HR programmes to attract graduates from university, alongside training programmes and benefits to incentivise staff to stay for a longer duration with the company.
“But it’s something that we have accepted – people will move on and so what we’re doing is just making sure we have full pooled resources in all the critical areas to fill in when the need arises,” Goundar says. “That’s one of the strategies we have.”
The Next Big Change
Of course, perhaps the biggest challenge facing Telecom Fiji right now, as well as businesses all around the world, is the global COVID-19 pandemic. As part of its Pandemic Management and Response Plan, Telecom Fiji rolled out the aforementioned COVID-19 relief packages to ensure that its customers stay connected and all telecommunication services and infrastructure remain operational. This includes continuing to provide services such as fibre backhaul to mobile operators to ensure that they, in turn, can continue providing services to their customers.
The company has given a number of extra services to its customers at zero cost in order to help them get through this time of isolation a little easier. Several of these packages include extra data, going as high as twice the amount of data customers paid for, flexibility on payment options and free software suites to maintain productivity for enterprise customers. “We will continue providing normal services to all customers as much as reasonably practicable without compromising health, safety and well-being of our staff and their families,” Goundar insists. “We have already issued protective gear to our frontline and customer-facing field operations teams and have already got certain sections of the company working from home.”
The company has comprehensive protocols in place to protect its staff and has also put in place precautionary measures for field operations teams to be mindful of when attending to complaints at customer premises. But beyond the pandemic, Telecom Fiji has grand plans. “We are exploring the developments around AI, IoT and 5G obviously,” Goundar says. “We’ve got a part to play in the development of the country and will keep rolling out services to customers and ensure the market is matching neighbouring markets in terms of what’s available to the public.”