03 November, 2015

ETNO ThinkDigital interview: CEO of VIVACOM talks customers, innovative products and EU regulation ahead of ETNO’s General Assembly in Sofia

"Our basic credo is around ubiquitous, fast broadband and convergence." Atanas Dobrev - Member of the Managing Board and CEO, VIVACOM #ThinkDigital

What are your main challenges as CEO of VIVACOM and how do you aim to drive change to meet these?

​VIVACOM is the biggest telecom operator in Bulgaria and for 11 consecutive quarters we have shown growth in revenue and customer base in a shrinking telecom market environment. Our main challenge is to use that leadership position and drive the market in a direction that will enable growth via advanced services and consumer satisfaction. We strongly believe that the winning strategy is to always be one step ahead and foresee what the customer wants before they do.

VIVACOM is also one of the biggest employers on the market – we have almost 6,000 people working as one team with one common goal - to provide the best telecom services to our customers. Our employees are our single most important factor for our success. We invest in our people and I can proudly say that we have managed to build a corporate culture that lives and breathes CUSTOMER!  

If you look at the digital consumer of today, what are their key demands?

Today’s consumer is impatient – everything should be available here and now. They are not interested in knowing what technology is behind the service offered – what they want is seamless connectivity – to have their services at hand everywhere and at any time. As an industry our mission is to satisfy the demands of our users.

However the industry and the regulators must recognise that most mobile data traffic today is driven by entertainment.  For mobility to become truly life changing, we need to see businesses using it more – from fleet management to mHealth and connected cars. Only when we reach mass adoption of non-entertainment services, will we see the true economic and social benefit of mobility. As much as our consumers like and use social and video services, I would consider it a big let-down, if other more essential services do not make use of the tremendous opportunity and potential of mobile broadband.

What new and innovative products are on offer for your customers that they could not get a few years ago?

Our basic credo is around ubiquitous, fast broadband and convergence. We were the first operator that was able to offer a full converged story to the consumer – becoming the only operator that can truly say it is the ONE STOP SHOP for all communication services. Couple of years ago we also entered the market for pay-TV (DTH&IPTV) services and changed the experience of watching TV for the consumer. Our IPTV offering is the best on the market and we can see the results every quarter, with increasing number of subscribers of IPTV.

Another quality service, which people appreciate highly, is the Fibre Net. Today we cover more than 1 million households with FTTx (fiber to the home or to the building) technology – approximately 30% of the households in the country.

What’s your take on the recent move to deregulate the wholesale broadband market in Bulgaria?

Unfortunately that did not happen - only the wholesale bitstream market was deregulated. VIVACOM still has a full set of obligations regarding passive (duct) infrastructure and a new VULA obligation that we believe is non-proportional. The broadband retail market in Bulgaria is highly competitive. We are unique, with strong platform competition based on self-supply alone and more than 600 acting operators. The national regulator did not identify any competition problem in the analysed period, so partial deregulation was simply a small step in the right direction.

As part of its Digital Single Market strategy, the European Commission will look into updating current telecom rules. What, in your view, is a priority?

Abandoning of ex-ante regulation should be the #1 priority. The communication sector is so dynamic and changes so rapidly that the idea of imposing regulatory measures by anticipating what will happened in 3 years seems too ambitious. Our industry is already competitive enough to switch to the ex-post control only. A level playing field with all players in the market on the principle “same service-same rule” would be fair. We have seen time and again that light regulation produces vibrant and competitive industries. Heavy regulation always stifles innovation.

Europe must become investor-friendly in order to be competitive in today’s global marketplace. Effective measures to push private investments in the high speed broadband infrastructure are also crucial. Return and rewards should became symmetrical – private investors will fund the next wave of innovation, the roll out of EU wide fibre services only if they have the certainty that they will be allowed to bear the fruits of such a risky investment.

Consumers have appetite for new services and traffic is growing fast. To meet that demand, we need political support for adequate spectrum policy. Spectrum is the industry’s life blood and if broadband is a priority – this must be seen in spectrum allocations as well.

If public policy cannot or does not want to guarantee light regulation for those who invest, then broadband deployment in rural and remote areas will have to depend on public-private partnerships.

Roaming regulation has been one of the cornerstones of EU policy, what is your view on that?

Roaming regulation have been hugely popular with consumers and this is probably the main reason why the EU parliament continues to legislate in that space. However what roaming regulations masks is that it is at best a pale imitation of the ultimate goal – a single EU telecom market. The parliament chose to take a shortcut, be popular and put the burden on the operators. However with the no-roaming go live date just around the corner, the EU has failed to address the real problem – huge disparity between the end user prices across countries, a hodgepodge of regulatory regimes and a general lack of consistent, investor friendly regulation across the EU.

By ETNO #ThinkDigital, Brussels, 03.11.2015


Atanas Dobrev - Member of the Managing Board, Chief Executive Officer, VIVACOM

Atanas Dobrev has an MBA in Finance and Accounting from Rollins College, Crummer Graduate School of Business, Florida, USA as well as Master’s degree in International Economic Relations form the University of National and World Economy, Sofia, Bulgaria

Atanas Dobrev has been a member of the management team of VIVACOM since September, 2008, when he first joined as Chief Financial Officer and since June 2013 he has been a member of the Managing Board and  the Chief Executive Officer of the company.

His previous experience includes the positions of Chief Financial Officer (2001-2008) at Globul – the second largest mobile operator in the country and Finance and Administration Manager at Oriflame Bulgaria.

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