INTERVIEW | Harald Roesch: A key enabler to Malta’s future success

5G, the Internet of Things and the changing landscape in telecommunications... Melita Limited CEO Harald Roesch gives BusinessToday a rundown on the telecoms giant’s achievements and future plans


You joined Melita as its new CEO in 2016. How have you found the experience been till now? What were the challenges you experienced, and how have you changed the company?

It’s been exciting, challenging, and extremely rewarding. When I arrived, Melita had just been acquired by new owners who had a vision to transform the company into the best telecommunications business in Malta.

It’s fair to say that back in 2016 Melita had a poor reputation, particularly in the area of customer service, so one of my first objectives was to address this, working with the existing team on new processes, and bringing in new people with external expertise.   

Today, this is one of the areas where Melita has really changed, we hear this in feedback from our customers, we see it in the high customer satisfaction scores we get, and we feel it from the reduction in employee turnover in our customer care team.

Another step we took to address the poor reputation was a re-brand in 2017.  Rather than a cosmetic change, the rebranding was about aligning our employees behind one vision, and one set of values; building our employees’ pride in Melita and enhancing our teamwork so we are better able to meet our customers’ expectations.

In parallel, we have of course maintained our focus on innovation and bringing the best telecommunications technology to Malta.

We are now the only company in Malta able to deliver gigabit 1,000 Mbps internet nationwide and we have a rolled out a state-of-the-art new mobile network across Malta and Gozo which is fully NB-IoT enabled, making our network the most powerful in Europe.

Overall, since 2016 we have seen business growth alongside significant improvements in Melita’s reputation, brand health and employee satisfaction.

Melita might have been criticised in the past for its customer care services. Are you confident this situation has now been remedied?

I can confidently say that we have turned this around.  One of the early actions was to instigate customer satisfaction ratings across our care, repair, install and retail teams.   

Our scores were initially very low, but for the last couple of years we have maintained an overall customer satisfaction of 8.9 out of 10, and for the last three months we have achieved 9.1 out of 10 – a score any business locally or internationally could be proud of.

That, of course, does not mean that we are perfect – we always aim for 10 out of 10 - but it does mean that we have made very significant progress and that our customers are increasingly satisfied with the service they receive from Melita.

We continue to make improvements, for example we have made it much easier for customers to contact us through chat services on our website and Facebook Messenger.

Our investments in training and systems have also enabled us to cope very well with the challenges presented by the current pandemic.

All our customer care team have, in fact, been able to work remotely and as a result we have been able to continue offering a seamless service, with high satisfaction scores, at a time when both business and personal customer requirements have changed and intensified.   

Earlier in April, Monaco Telecom completed a €250 million acquisition of Vodafone Malta. Tamas Banyai, who will take over as CEO of the Malta operation, said the company "will be focusing on network investment and customer experience." Does Melita feel this acquisition will change the local telecommunications landscape, and how?

Competition in Malta, where the market is relatively small, the physical environment challenging, and economies of scale hard to achieve, is already fierce. All the operators in Malta have, over the years, worked hard to ensure they have good networks, good service and competitive pricing.

We can see the outcome of this collective effort, for example, in the last EY Malta Attractiveness report which highlighted how significant the strength and quality of Malta’s communications infrastructure has been in attracting foreign investment.

The arrival of a new operator will, inevitably, bring new ideas and energy to the market. I’m confident, however, that Melita has a strong strategy going forward that will see us continue to grow our customer base and market share.

Do you expect that Monaco Telecom could increase in the level of competition locally and does Melita have plans in place to counter this in terms of the services it provides?

As I mentioned, competition in Malta is already fierce so I don’t think the level of competition will change much. Obviously, Monaco Telecom will bring a new approach and may innovate in new ways.

From Melita’s point of view, we always welcome competition as it drives improvements across the market, but we also have confidence that our existing strategy is the right one.

In November last year, Melita launched a new data centre facility as well as Internet of Things connectivity services across Europe. What is the value of these substantial investments for the company, its consumers and the Maltese economy?

Melita is investing significantly in Internet of Things technology especially in the connectivity that sensors need to be always connected to the Internet.

In Malta we have deployed NB-IoT in 100% of Malta and Gozo. NB-IoT is probably the most promising connectivity type for IoT as it reaches extremely good coverage including in underground facilities (cellars and garages) and allows sensors to work with extremely low battery consumption.

An NB-Iot based sensor can live up to 10 years on a battery without recharging. But we also offer IoT connectivity based on 3G, 4G and soon LTE-M and 5G.

In addition, we have invested in software tools helping companies to manage a large number of sensors, to connect them via APIs to their own corporate networks and to make the networks secure.

The Internet of Things is a fundamental technology to improve the efficiency of Businesses. Just a few examples: Imagine a company with refrigerating units.

It is crucial to understand immediately when the temperature rises above a certain threshold to avoid damage.

Imagine you are a logistics company.You certainly need to know at all times where your containers are, if they have been opened or any inappropriate use has been made.

Or imagine a pest control company operating rat traps across a large geographical area. It is certainly a huge benefit when you know exactly with traps need to be cleaned rather than checking all of them periodically. All that is achieved with sensors connected to the Internet all the time.

With relatively minor limitations and low additional effort we can offer the technology we develop in Malta also to Businesses located anywhere else in Europe. This in turn opens up great market potential to us.

2020 has been touted as the year 5G goes mainstream. While the COVID-19 pandemic might have unfortunately stolen some of the limelight from this technology, it looks that 5G will become part of our lives in the near future. The European Commission has said 5G "will be one of the most critical building blocks of our digital economy and society in the next decade", and has put in place a target for member states to start launching 5G services by the end of 2020. What are Melita's plans in this regard? What investments has it made in 5G, and is there a timeline for when the technology will start being tested and eventually rolled out to its customers?

We have upgraded our entire mobile network, working with Ericsson to bring the most advanced mobile technology to Malta.

Our network is 5G-ready, however, the process of launching 5G depends on a number of factors including, of course, the regulatory process.

5G has the potential to bring about transformational change, and we are ready to play a key role in this aspect of the digital economy.

Over and above the increased mobile data speeds which 5G will bring with it, what kind of difference do you see the technology making to the lives of the man on the street? And what will Melita's role be in this regard - even from the point of view of the wider improvements which 5G can herald, such as its envisaged role in enabling smart cities or remote surgery?

I think the biggest changes we will see with the arrival of 5G will in fact be in the increased use of smart technologies within industry, particularly areas such as manufacturing and logistics, as well as in health care.

On a personal level, smart technologies will impact the way we travel and how we run our homes and do our shopping.

Residential customers will immediately experience the benefits of lower latency with 5G when they are using their mobiles for activities such as high-quality video conferencing or gaming.

Melita will continue to be an enabler, ensuring, as we do today, that we have the right infrastructure and product offerings in place so that our customers can make the most of new opportunities and applications which will arise.

The COVID-19 pandemic has placed a strain on broadband internet services due to more people being online at one go, with even streaming service giants like Netlix deciding to cut bandwith usage. Did Melita register an increase in bandwith demand in this regard? What this a challenge? What measures did Melita put in place to ensure its internet services remained uninterrupted despite the increase in usage?

The way in which people in Malta use communications services has undergone unprecedented change since the first Covid-19 case was confirmed locally in early March.

We have seen internet use growing by 70 per cent, as people stay at home, and use the internet more heavily, for more hours each day.  Particularly striking has been the increase in upload usage of more than 10 times the trend – primarily due to video conferencing from home.

We have seen increases across all our services with, for example, the number of people watching TV rising 42 per cent and the number of fixed call minutes increasing by more than 60 per cent.

At the same time, mobile call minutes grew 29 per cent and mobile data use grew 18 per cent.  Despite this additional demand on our services, Melita's networks continue to perform very well and we’re proud to have completely avoided any congestion so far.

We utilised contingencies and accelerated our planned capacity upgrades, so even though we continue to experience higher demands we expect to remain capable of delivering services reliably to all our customers.

Looking to the future, how do you see Melita developing in the next years? Are there any company expansions - even abroad - currently taking place or planned in the coming years?

Melita’s story in recent years has been a positive one. Our customer base and market share have grown and we continue to invest and work hard to ensure we offer the best possible service to our customers.

We are focused on remaining a key enabler to Malta’s future success and our strategy is firmly focused on making the investments needed to achieve this.

Of course, the opportunities for growth in Malta are restricted by the size of the market so we also continue to see Melita Italia and the international IoT services we offer through as key elements in delivering growth.

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