Itel.am’s interview with MTS Armenia General Manager Ralph Yirikian
Mr. Yirikian, 2020 was hard for all of us, with the war following the epidemic. How did Viva-MTS withstand these difficulties?
2020 started quite well for us and we had promising figures for January and February, but in March, the company started feeling the effects of the COVID-19 epidemic.
It brought significant difficulties, because we had to close our service centers or substantially limit their work. That impacted the influx of new subscribers and our revenue, obviously. We had to review and cut some expenses, but never in a way that would affect the staff. We have had neither staff reduction nor pay cuts since the beginning of the epidemic.
As we switched to remote working, like many others, we had to review or reorganize a lot in the working process.
We recorded increase in indices even in the difficult year of 2020, both in terms of the number of subscribers and the revenues. We maintain our advantage over competitors.
What new services have you created during the pandemic?
In 2020, we further enhanced the capacities of the V&D (voice and data) tariff plans we proposed. These solutions were especially useful in 2020 for proper organization of distance learning and training. When the epidemic began, we were the first in the Armenian market to add Zoom and Skype apps. With these packages, subscribers pay for the service and not the traffic, and depending on the tariff plan, they can get unlimited use of almost all of the most popular messengers.
That way we changed the rules of the game. We did have some concerns about the new model, but it has turned out to be the right one.The pandemic seemed to be going down when the war began.
I bow to all our martyrs. I want to hope that we will learn a lesson from what happened and from now on direct our efforts toward building a stronger country and a better future. I never want to witness myself something I only saw in images at the Armenian history lessons at school. Unfortunately, history has repeated itself in some episodes.
During the war, we continued to build stations and expand our network, which was necessary for military needs as well. Our brave workers were facing explosions and shelling to repair fiber optic networks and mobile stations.
Border communities have always been and will continue to be our focus area. For example, we have three stations that serve three different purposes in Nrnadzor community. One station secures communication for military needs, another serves the local community, and the third one serves the Iran-Armenia interstate highway. Actually, Viva-MTS is the only communication service provider in some areas.Last time we spoke in January of 2020, when Ucom was negotiating the purchase of Beeline Armenia and you noted that in case that deal went through, there would a “dominant” company in the market. The deal did not go through, another one did. What is your opinion on this?
I will not make any comments on the deal. I can only say that a new business means new opportunities in the market. I wish all our competitors success so that they create new jobs.What is your general assessment of competition in the communications industry?
I can only talk about our company, and I am satisfied with the level of transparency of our work. I think it is obvious, visible to everyone. Different international certifications that we have add another guarantee of our transparency.
As for the overall market, our competitors have their own business models and strategies, different from ours, but there is competition in the industry. We were all more restrained in terms of competition during the war and after war, and now we are gradually returning to the pre-war level.In our previous interview, you mentioned that Viva-MTS was in the process of digital transformation toward becoming an ICT company through merger of IT and tranitional communications segment – the so-called “smart pipe”.
The digital transformation continues. We are now a provider of both communication and digital services.
Viva-MTS was the first in Armenia to partner with Microsoft to launch the Azure Stack solution that provides customers with cloud solutions. The servers are located in our centers, in the territory of Armenia.
We have also launched the “virtual desktop” business solution. It enables small and medium-sized businesses to work remotely even if they do not have their own computer infrastructure, and that way they can save significantly.
We have further developed the Mobidram app – an updated version has just hit the market.
Along with all that, we consistently expand our network infrastructure. We have a fiber optic network throughout Armenia, we have significantly increased the number of subscribers of broadband fixed-line internet and related services, and we continue to expand and strengthen the 4G network.In early 2020, you said you were seriously considering introduction of 5G network. Does Armenia need it now?
Not with the economy Armenia has today, no. However, demand can create supply. The entire country now uses the operators’ networks, and there is no area that can work and develop without them. As many people are still working remotely, we see a sharp increase in traffic.
We also need to take into account the fact that Armenia does not yet have the frequencies required for the 5G network, so it is too early to speak about installing it.What are the areas of social investment for Viva-MTS this year?
Social investment has always been and remains an integral part of our strategy and business mentality. This year we will consolidate the focus on border communities and continue housing and infrastructure programs there (street lighting, central heating, etc.). Another area of focus is supporting orthotics for our wounded soldiers and assistance for their other needs.Ara Tadevosyan talked to Ralph YirikianPhotos: Emin Aristakesyan