Optus just wants to be loved

It's just a telco, standing in front of a consumer, asking them to feel a sense of loss if they choose Telstra or TPG.
Written by Chris Duckett, Contributor

Optus CEO Kelly Bayer Rosmarin

Image: Optus

Optus unveiled an interesting target for a telco on Monday during a business strategy update: To become "Australia's most loved everyday brand".

"This will take some serious shifts as becoming loved is not something we can take lightly," Optus CEO Kelly Bayer Rosmarin explained.

The telco is going to rely on its network, which it considered to be equal to or better than Telstra's. It will also continue to move beyond offering simply data pipes. 

Optus currently has 868,000 users on its Optus Sport streaming service and 60,000 users on its Optus Sport Fitness app, which streams fitness workout videos.

Bayer Rosmarin also unveiled the measure by which the telco would reach its love goal.

"We aim to know our customers so well and provide them with what they want how they want, maybe even before they realise they need it, to create the Optus standard that means they will feel a sense of loss if they switch to anyone else," the CEO said.

"We'll provide access to the latest 5G technology and services that are designed to meet customers needs, not those of our engineers."

The telco chief warned that profitability in the telco sector was being stripped away, and reform of the sector was needed.

"Return on invested capital in our sector is at historic lows. This is of concern to me and our investors, and it should also concern our government and everyday Australians too," Bayer Rosmarin said.

"The current investment climate is not sustainable and risks holding back the future growth of our nation."

On the reform list for Optus is: Sorting out the NBN CVC capacity charge, something many telcos have complained about for years; getting NBN to perform its work correctly the first time and remove a lot of cost to telcos and complaints from customers; and getting over-the-top (OTT) providers to contribute to the cost of infrastructure.

"I think we need some redefinition of our industry. At the moment there's a lot of OTT providers -- whether it's video streamers, gaming companies -- who actually can have a major impact on the level of infrastructure bill that is required and at the moment they see bandwidth usage as a free good," Bayer Rosmarin said.

The CEO cited bit rate reductions from the streaming players at the start of the pandemic as having a major impact in how Australians could use broadband.

On more than one occasion, NBN had its highest-traffic days during the pandemic when an update to Call of Duty was available.

"When those players have that kind of an ability, there should be collaboration in the industry to set the right parameters and participation in infrastructure capital to make sure that that isn't abused and that we chart a course forward where all players actually win and mostly consumers win," the Optus chief said.

"And we don't land up in a situation where we have a small number of consumers, who are generating a huge infrastructure cost that has to be worn by the Australian public in general. Because then we'll have a situation of rising unaffordability of core connectivity which ... is so fundamental to everyday life."

During the briefing, the Symphony Consortium -- made up of the Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement System, Stilmark, and ATN International -- confirmed the details of its mooted move for Optus' passive tower assets, which are expected to be sold at auction in February.

The consortium said it was working with the Royal Bank of Canada and Q Advisors.

Speaking on the potential sale, Bayer Rosmarin said the towers were still necessary, but the company received no competitive advantage from having them, and there was a "stronger monetisation opportunity" from having specialist company look after those assets.

"This is a structure that's been used around the world to keep them managed very effectively and efficiently and so we're really looking to take advantage of that structure to accelerate our ability to invest in building Australia's fastest 5G," she said.

In its recent first-half results, the Singaporean-owned Australian telco reported a AU$262 million drop into net loss territory on the back of the pandemic.

Across the half year to September 30, Optus saw revenue drop 9% to AU$4.1 billion, while earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortisation fell by almost a third to AU$997 million. By the time the numbers hit the bottom line, the telco reported a net loss of AU$27 million, compared to the AU$235 million in profit posted for the first half of 2019.

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