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Grameenphone Launches M2M Plan, Internet Of Things In Dhaka And Grameenphone’s Tenacity

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Dec 18, 2017

I was watching Grameenphone’s CEO Michael Foley Yesterday speaking at GP’s FundStarter event organized by its White Board platform and I was deeply impressed - the guy knows what he is doing. This is one of the reasons GP fascinates me so much as a company.

Since its inception as an epochal company in 1997, an event that fundamentally changed the consumer technology scene in Bangladesh, it continues to do so even these days.

This time it did something quite interesting, in some way a first major breakthrough in the IoT adaptation in Bangladesh. We will have to wait to see how it turns out, nonetheless, in life, most of the time taking an action is what matters most, the result does not. As Foley told to a group of founders yesterday, it is all about the courage to choose a path less traveled.

Enough ado, the news is Grameenphone Ltd. (GP) has launched a new M2M (Machine to Machine) Plan for its corporate clients that will enable users to manage their various devices more efficiently. This is the textbook example of IoT service. And I’m not the right person to explain the intricacies of the service, but I think this is a notable move and deserves attention.

This is first of such offerings in Bangladesh. In a launch event hosted at GP House last week, the company claims, its Machine-to-Machine (M2M) Plans are a mix of data packs, SIM cards and secure connectivity options for devices that would improve asset utilization, reduce costs, enhance customer experience and enable faster decision making.

M2M Plan includes various Data Packs, M2M self-service portal, Industrial grade SIM cards, and Telco-grade Security features to empower the customers with more choices, control, and visibility.

The plan’s self-service M2M Control Centre will allow customers view and administer their connected devices in GP Network through a dashboard interface, helping them to improve operating efficiency by providing valuable information and insight.

M2M

From IoT Agenda:

“Machine to machine (M2M) is a broad label that can be used to describe any technology that enables networked devices to exchange information and perform actions without the manual assistance of humans.

M2M communication is often used for remote monitoring. In product restocking, for example, a vending machine can message the distributor when a particular item is running low. M2M communication is an important aspect of warehouse management, remote control, robotics, traffic control, logistic services, supply chain management, fleet management and telemedicine. It forms the basis for a concept known as the Internet of Things (IoT).

Key components of an M2M system include sensors, RFID, a Wi-Fi or cellular communications link and autonomic computing software programmed to help a networked device interpret data and make decisions. The most well-known type of M2M communication is telemetry, which has been used since the early part of the last century to transmit operational data. Pioneers in telemetrics first used telephone lines -- and later, on radio waves -- to transmit performance measurements gathered from monitoring instruments in remote locations.”

Grameenphone has been working on IoT related products and services for a while now. The operator has a solid team working in the space and this is its first breakthrough in the space.

Networked devices is a future that is becoming increasingly a reality, fast. The basic use of M2M service is vehicle tracking. When you enable devices to communicate and track automatically it allows you understand the nuances and then control and improve productivity, in its all possible way.

There are a handful of companies working on IoT in Dhaka and it will be interesting to see how this turns out for GP and other players in the market.

GP’s Tenacity

Early this year I wrote an article titled Grameenphone’s Digital Strategy, the central argument of the article was that Grameenphone is working hard to build a host of inter-connected products to ride on its platform in order to secure its future which is in threat due to the changes in the technology worldwide.

The basic argument of my analysis still holds. In fact, GP CEO Michael Foley says something along the line that due to changes in the digital technology space, businesses of companies like GP is an existential threat and that everything that GP is now doing is part of its strategy to survive and thrive in the upcoming new world.

However, I was completely wrong when it comes to analyzing the way GP’s trying to achieve the above-mentioned goal. Again, my argument about the GP’s challenges holds but my argument about how it is trying to deal with the challenges does not. From Grameenphone’s Digital Strategy:

There are not many companies like Grameenphone in Bangladesh. The company is a master of execution and very good at thinking ahead of the competition. If you look closely at how GP operates, you will find that it operates with a sort of conviction and commitment that is hard to come by. At the same time, the company is agile, more so for a company of GP’s size, and do things that almost no other companies would do in the market.

[.....]

“If you look closely at digital services that GP and its parent company Telenor offer, one thing that connects all of them is that GP users often get additional or exclusive benefits accessing these services. For instance, Tonic membership is only for GP users. Music App is too and Bioscope, although open for all through the web, is for the GP users.

The connection here is simple: with the bundle of all these services, a GP number is no more a mere GP number, it is more than that. It is an ecosystem. If you have a GP number you can listen to music, for free or a small fee, you can watch Video and you can have special health-related facilities. This, done right, is a huge feat for GP to position ahead of the coming telecom competition.

Then there is more to it. Since data business is growing fast for all three operators, the winner will be the one who has the capacity to offer more interesting and exclusive content. From that point of view, if you don’t even take ecosystem effect into consideration, all these digital services ultimately add up huge value for GP.”

I asked the ecosystem question to GP’s Deputy CEO Yasir Azman a few months ago. From my interview with Mr. Azman and this cements my realization:

“You are right to some extent that the number or connectivity has a huge value for us in terms of creating things around it and it being the center of other services today. For instance, Facebook, being a platform itself, is now building different services top of that.

In order to build an ecosystem, you need a platform. In our case, we have the number, which may not be as strong as something like search or social network but it is still incredibly important for us to think like a platform.

However, to me, our customers are the center of everything we do. Digitization is happening fast in Bangladesh. The demand for digital services is effectively infinite. You now consume information to entertainment digitally. We see an enormous opportunity there. In your digital life, we would like to be relevant by recommending most appropriate services you need in real time.

Our product portfolio is not what you see coming from Grameenphone alone. We have a higher number of services from our partners than our own. Some of our services such as Wowbox, Bioscope, GP Music, Tonic all are either through global or local partnership.

On the other hand, My GP, that digitizes our core, allows our users to check balance, activate or deactivate services, pay bills, buy packs, get special offers, and do anything and everything related to telco. We are now seeing additional demand from our customers for more services in the same app which opens up the opportunity to build an ecosystem.

Over the time, MY GP may evolve into My Life from a customer perspective that fulfills all your need in one place. It creates immense opportunity for our partners and young developers to reach a huge user base digitally.

Nobody knows how things would work out at the end. You figure it out as you go. It is equally true for all the tech giants.”

This was the part where I got it so terribly wrong. While GP is partly trying to become an ecosystem with its host of digital services and its network at the center that will eventually help it to grow its data business, the ecosystem is not the only thing the company is eyeing for in the long run.

It is looking for entirely new businesses and business models that can independently grow beyond GP. That’s why despite its several hiccups with eCommerce, it is now launching new platform Shoparu. And that is exactly what makes GP, GP. In life and business, it is all about doing and shipping, and GP gets it.

While I’m genuinely impressed with the operator, I don’t think the company has found its one thing beyond telecom yet.


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Ruhul Kader is a technology and business analyst based in Dhaka, Bangladesh. He is also the co-founder and CEO of Future Startup and author of Rethinking Failure: A short guide to living an entrepreneurial life. He writes about internet business, strategy, technology, technology policy, and society. He can be reached at ruhul@futurestartup.com

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