The Business Year

Karim Benkirane

SAUDI ARABIA - Telecoms & IT

Linked Up

CEO, Virgin Mobile KSA


Karim Benkirane is currently the CEO of Virgin Mobile KSA, which is a part of the VMMEA, and has been in the position since 2013. Before this, he was the CEO of KPN from 2009 to 2013 in Paris. He also worked as the CCO of Telecom Italia from 2004 to 2009.

After some years, Virgin Mobile officially began operations in the Saudi market in 2014. What does the Saudi Arabian market mean for Virgin Mobile Middle East and Africa (VMMEA)? The […]

After some years, Virgin Mobile officially began operations in the Saudi market in 2014. What does the Saudi Arabian market mean for Virgin Mobile Middle East and Africa (VMMEA)?

The Saudi market is the largest market in the region. It is strategic for VMMEA, and, of course, we believe that if we can succeed in Saudi, we can succeed in other operations. The Saudi market consists of 30 million customers, with 20 million local and 10 million expatriates. Virgin Mobile decided to launch two brands, one for locals and one for expatriates, in order to serve both segments and customers. If we succeed in Saudi, then we are not playing the same game or playing the same price strategy; it is more about the customer experience and how we can innovate and be more groundbreaking in this direction. Of course, if we can succeed, we can take it to other regions in the GCC and to the Middle East and Africa in general. We had a great experience in Europe, Canada, and the US, and, of course, we are trying to take this experience to Saudi Arabia so that we can serve our customers there with the right experience. We are looking at 10 countries in the coming five years. Virgin Mobile already operates in South Africa, and we are operating in Oman, Malaysia, and Jordan, albeit with a different brand. We are looking for an additional five locations over the next five years.

Saudi Arabia is notable for having a large expatriate community, as well as a young population. What are your strategies to cater to these demographics?

When you start looking at the needs of customers, you start to realize immediately that expatriates have different needs to locals, because they want to be able to stay in contact with their home country; therefore, they make more international calls compared to young Saudis, who are looking more at the quality, data services, and the voice and other services on offer. This is why we decided to introduce two brands, one where the expatriates feel that we are really matching their needs and what they want to have, and, of course, another brand for Saudis. Both brands are trying to provide the best experience, albeit with a completely different approach. The brand for Saudi youth, for example, is about trying to communicate through social media. And, for our expat brand FRiENDi, we go more offline and try to be close to our customers.

How do you see the long-term effects of having three additional operators, particularly MVNOs, affecting the market?

The positive thing in our business model is that we can focus more on experience and marketing, rather than spending time on the network and trying to have large coverage on the technology side. I believe that is a major advantage for our business model. This is also how we can play a different game and in different areas. Another aspect is that when you are an NMO, you tend to be more of a niche market. We are not going for the mass market; we want to be experts in a certain segment, which is not 100% of the market. This is the business model we chose, compared to other NMOs who are looking at the mass market and technology. We are really going in the opposite direction by looking at a small segments and being experts. We launched in 2014, and it was a very successful commercial launch. The feedback that we received from our customers is excellent; they are happy with the innovative products that we introduced. For example, we introduced a unique three SIM start-up pack, which had great feedback. This is the innovation that we want to keep and offer to the market. The feedback was really positive, and it is first time that I can see in social media that people took pictures of our start-up pack. It is not a handset, it is just a SIM card; however, people were really happy to see this new product.



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