Meteor plans a ‘disruptive approach’

31 Oct 2002

New Meteor boss Stewart Sherriff has a straightforward mission — to make the company profitable. While the company lacks the financial muscle of Vodafone and O2’s UK parents, Sherriff subscribes to the stratagem that out of chaos comes opportunity.

He believes that agility, and not size, will define the winners in the Irish mobile landscape in the months and years to come. Therefore, he says, late arrival to the Irish mobile market Meteor is quite content to avoid costly investments in 2.5G technologies such as GPRS or the advent of 3G unless there is a business case for actually doing so. He is quite happy to see his competitors pump millions into it instead.

“No market in the world has yet to yield a profit from GPRS. However, if someone can convince me there is money to be made, I will switch it on tomorrow,” he states quite frankly.

Held up by costly court cases, the company missed out on the watershed years of 1999 and 2000 that saw the Irish mobile market mature to its present 79pc population penetration. In the past two years Meteor has racked up just 118,000 customers, while O2 and Vodafone control 96pc of the market.

Many would believe Sherriff is in an unenviable position, but he has a stoical outlook on the matter. The company now has some 83pc population coverage and is counting on the advent of mobile number portability after Christmas, which will allow subscribers to carry 085/086/087 prefixes with them whenever they change networks, to allow Meteor to erode O2 and Vodafone’s share of the market.

Sherriff’s optimism is buoyed by a wealth of experience at the helm of Western Wireless mobile companies in Hong Kong, Australia and Saudi Arabia.

Speaking of the legal battlefields that the company has had to traverse as well as the saturation of the market by his two competitors, he says: “You get dealt a hand and you’ve got to cope with it, but I think these issues are in the past.”

Customer acquisition is a phrase that Sherriff appears to savour in the same tone as a wine lover might caress a 200-year-old red. “We don’t see it [Vodafone and O2’s market share] as a stranglehold, but rather a period of opportunity. It’s really a communication challenge. There is a misguided perception in the market that we only cover Dublin, but that’s not the case,” he continues.

Sherriff admits to being sceptical about the future of 2.5G and 3G. “Look at the €190bn wasted on licences. Look at the sacrifices that BT, Vodafone, KPN and Telefonica have had to make. It’s not a healthy environment,” he reckons.

Sherriff is content to be stubborn about not entering the GPRS segment of the market. “We are GPRS-enabled and ready to push the button. The reason I won’t push the button is that there are obviously costs associated with that in terms of licensing fees and it wouldn’t be prudent of me to spend that money if there is no return on that investment. We are ready tomorrow if the killer app was available and if GPRS is a viable option.

“I see our competitors making mistakes. They spend an awful amount of money on marketing, for example. Last week I turned on the telly and saw some guy in a mobile ad with 40pc of his body covered in tattoos. I’m quite happy for Vodafone to spend a lot of money on those kind of things and you know what, I’m quite happy for O2 to do the same,” he continues.

“The second mistake is that they can’t move quickly enough. The agile player is going to be the best in this market. We are agile enough to do that, make decisions quickly and initiate a strategy without having to report to other decision makers. They will find it very difficult to predict or counteract our strategies.”

He concludes with a word of warning: “We are going to take a disruptive approach to the market. And they will be too big to handle it.”