|Boris Nemsic: looking
for further acquisitions
to the south and east
Boris Nemsic is the CEO of Mobilkom Austria, the mobile
division of the Austrian incumbent, and is COO of the group's
various wireless activities. And we were at the 3GSM conference
So perhaps it was understandable that, when the first
question in the interview was: "What are your plans for Telekom
Austria?" he misunderstood and started to answer about
But that won't last long. When we spoke it was barely a
month since Telekom Austria had announced that Heinz Sundt had
decided to resign as CEO with effect from the company's annual
meeting on May 23.
In the same announcement the company said that, from the
following day, Nemsic would take over. He will be not only CEO
of Telekom Austria, but will continue as CEO of Mobilkom
So where some incumbents have decided to announce their
intention to reintegrate their fixed and mobile operations with
some drama, and of course some share transactions, the
Austrians appear to have done it simply by announcing that one
person will head the two businesses.
The reality will, naturally, be revealed after May 24 as
Nemsic builds his team and develops his strategy. But meanwhile
he can be tempted to express some initial ideas about the
converged world of the fixed-mobile future.
Nemsic does not fit the stereotype of an Austrian
businessman. That's because he's not. He was born 49 years ago
in Sarajevo, then in Yugoslavia but now, after a brutal civil
war in the 1990s, the capital of Bosnia Herzegovina. He trained
as an engineer, and moved to Austria in his 20s as an academic,
before working for telecoms equipment manufacturers in Austria,
Switzerland and Germany. He's been with Mobilkom for nine
years, having joined as a network planner.
All pictures show him with a characteristic stubble on his
chin — just as he was at the interview at 3GSM. So,
back to the original question: what are your plans? "To
continue a successful business," he says. "One of the major
points which we've already announced — we are
following a horizontal expansion in Serbia and Bosnia
Herzegovina, and this is the main point for this year."
Telekom Austria already has interests in neighbouring Balkan
countries. Nemsic himself once headed VIPnet, the company's
mobile operation in Croatia. "In Bosnia Herzegovina there is a
tender that has been announced, which should be in April or
May, for a fixed and mobile operation, with roughly 500,000
mobile customers and roughly 300,000 fixed customers."
The company that Mobilkom will be bidding for has a full
nationwide licence in Bosnia Herzegovina. "They are now number
two there, but they have good potential," he says. "There will
be a tough race for it. Others will bid, but we think we have
some advantages in the region. We know it very well. So we will
run for it."
In Serbia it's more complicated. Mobtel "which we have been
heading for, lost its licence in December, and the government
decided to withdraw the licence". Now the company is under
state control. But Mobilkom is working with the government and
private investors "to find some next steps which will bring the
licence and the assets so we can take over later on".
The exact procedure is not year clear, says Nemsic. There
will be tendering process, "especially because the licence must
be tendered", but he is sure that Mobilkom "can compete, no
problem at all".
He seems confident, then, of the chances that operations in
Bosnia Herzegovina and in Serbia will shortly join the Mobilkom
business, alongside its existing central and eastern European
interests — VIPnet in Croatia and Si.mobil in
neighbouring Slovenia, both also parts of the former
Yugoslavia, plus Mobilkom Liechtenstein. A recent addition is
Mobiltel in Bulgaria, owned directly by parent company Telekom
Is he looking at other opportunities for expansion? "It's
always a question of what is available, and that changes from
day to day. There are no named projects at the moment. We are
watching the area and I am sure something will appear down the
How far afield does Nemsic define his boundaries? Where will
he look for acquisitions? Vodafone recently made a purchase in
"Turkey's a big place," says Nemsic. And at the same time
Vodafone sold its Swedish operation. "That's interesting," he
says: "A smart, tough move, because it's obvious that big boys
are better in big markets, and small or medium sizes —
as we are — are better in small markets. It's very
good if this kind of reshaping takes place."
He doesn't quite specify where he's looking, except "east
and south of Austria", a term which pretty much describes what
he's already invested in, or declared his intention —
in this interview — to invest in; unless other
opportunities arise in places such as Hungary, Romania, Albania
Mobilkom is looking outside Austria for its growth
opportunities because mobile penetration is 106%. However, in
December the company recorded "an all time high in net adds in
the history of the company" in its Austrian home market. "If
you ask me where the people are coming from, I cannot give you
a complete answer. But however we are happy that people are
coming. We have passed the number of 3.4 million
Mobilkom's share in the contract market is growing, he says.
"We are not speaking about growth in unnamed pre-paid but
substantial growth in post-paid. Our post-paid growth rate was
roughly 8%, and that's with a penetration of 106%."
Data revenues — "real data, without SMS" —
are doubling year on year. "Real data revenues have already
passed SMS revenues," he adds. "That's really good news."
He is concerned with one aspect of the mobile market in
Austria. T-Mobile, owned by Deutsche Telekom, wants to buy a
smaller operator, Tele.ring.
This plan has now been postponed, because the European
Commission in Brussels appears worried that competition will be
harmed. Nemsic is worried about this — perhaps
surprisingly, because normally one would expect one operator to
be concerned about strengthening opposition.
But it's not that. "Austria is definitely the most
competitive market in Europe, or one of the most competitive.
It's really on the top. Saying that if number four is merged
with number two all this competition will diminish is, well it
is really curious. I cannot follow it."
Nemsic is concerned that such a ruling might be "our
industry cannot develop". He points out that "consolidation is
a normal process of development" and "if this is frozen this
will be very bad for the industry".
He's not worried by the prospect of T-Mobile's Austrian
operation taking over Tele.ring. "Who cares? We have nine
brands on the market. That's not the point. But this is an
The previous owners of Tele.ring "have finished their job",
he says. They're at the end of their phase. "Why should you
force them to keep going if they don't want to." If pressure
from government or regulators means companies can't merge,
financial investors will be concerned about other investments
in the industry, he says.
"They want to sell."
Consolidation is "a very normal step", he says. "We are
speaking of consolidation in the area of 35-36% market share,
which is nothing. We are not speaking about the 60s."
Most countries allow operators to merge: "it worked in the
Netherlands, it worked in Iceland, it worked in Finland, it
worked in Italy; yet in Austria Brussels is making such a
noise. I definitely don't understand what is going on."
If the Commission's view prevails, "it is an extremely bad
sign for the industry2, says Nemsic. "I am speaking very openly
because we are not involved. T-Mobile is keeping very gentle.
This story has been running now for eight months," and it is
bound to affect customers and employees.
Does this affect Telekom Austria and Mobilkom directly? No,
"because we do not have any consolidation plans because we are
number one, so I must assume that we will not be allowed to do
major steps". From a commercial point of view "it doesn't
affect us at all, no, he says.
One of the suggestions from Brussels for remedy was that
"the assets should be handed over to Hutch", which already owns
a 3G licence, under the brand name 3, in Austria. "How can you
say to Hutch that you must roll out 2G services?" wonders
"I don't understand the rationale behind it. It's simply
wrong. For Mobilkom and Telekom Austria it has no influence,
but for the industry it's not good."
He is not CEO of Telekom Austria itself yet, so he is
understandably cautious about going too deeply into his plans
for when he takes over. But what does he think about ideas of
convergence between fixed and mobile operations? How is he
seeing the future?
"I think in the industry we have a mess with the term
'convergence'. What does it mean?" says Nemsic. "The matter of
convergence will be decided by the customer, and from a
technological point of view you should not push the customer to
use something which we call convergence because it's
technically possible today. This is simply wrong."
Instead, find a service from which the customer gets added
value. "If you can define that, fine. In some areas there will
be a substitution. In some other areas there will be a common
But there's a problem lurking here. "You have to be honest.
If a customer thinks about convergence, he thinks about a
discount. So let's name it. Are we allowed to give a discount?
We have to ask our dear regulators, are we allowed to offer a
And Telekom Austria is the incumbent, so that sort of thing
tends to be difficult.
"I'm an engineer," says Nemsic. "I know that we can push the
bits this way and that way. That's really not the issue. Each
and every market and especially each and every company has to
really look very precisely at which way convergence is
Telekom Austria has an excellent reputation for developing
new services. "We have a very good broadband share, roughly 40%
in retail plus 10% for wholesale, 50% together. We have
excellent positioning in IPTV. We'll be a triple play offer,
and this has to be developed further."
With both fixed and mobile operations in the same company,
and soon to be under his management, does Nemsic see much
potential for fixed-mobile convergence. "That's for the
customer to decide," he says.
"BT is not a good example for us." BT in the UK is promoting
fixed-mobile convergence, using Vodafone as the carrier of the
MVNO part of the system. BT does not have its own mobile
network. "Because we have really two strong arms, fixed and
And in Austria mobile substitution is among the strongest in
Europe, he adds. "Around 53-54% of all minutes are on mobile,"
he notes, "so we are not talking about 80% — as the
German example — and looking for 10% as a mobile
operator. In Austria we've passed this stage."
To be clear, Nemsic believes the opportunity for
fixed-mobile convergence is being seen in countries where most
minutes still travel on fixed networks. That's no longer the
case in Austria, where mobile call rates are low. "That's the
point," he says. "You can kill all these dual mode stories with
a nice tariff."
And in Austria these tariffs are already in operation. "For
example with us, for a lump sum of €3 a month you have
free calls to the fixed network. For a further €3 or
€5 a month, it depends on the package, you get free calls
on net with 3.4 million Mobilkom customers."
Why should anyone build complex new technology in order to
achieve savings on mobile phone calls, by diverting them to IP
networks, when lower tariffs can keep those calls on the GSM
networks, he wonders.
"The community is made by the tariffing, and you don't need
a complicated device that recognises wifi, Bluetooth, GSM,
UMTS, DSL — who cares?"
And the customer making a half-cent phone call does not care
which technology is behind all this, he adds. So he doesn't
understand "these moves that we see in Europe, and BT is an
excellent example, and Germany is the second excellent
It is all "triggered by low substitution of minutes, and
high pricing", he warns. "And we already have substitution and
low pricing, so this is a problem that doesn't exist in Austria
— I would say fortunately."
Why are prices so low? "In Austria we had quality
competition from day one," he says. "We tried to position
ourselves on the quality side," and others did the same.
"Austria has excellent quality and then you have to compete on
Quality is such that "when people ask if you have indoor
coverage or not, we don't know what people are talking about,
because of course you have indoor coverage". That's different
from many other countries.
Meanwhile Mobilkom has launched HSDPA commercially and "it's
really sexy, it's brilliant", says Nemsic. Mobilkom has an
alliance with Vodafone, so markets the Vodafone Mobile Connect
card in Austria "and this can be upgraded to HSDPA with a
software download", he says. "Within two weeks 2,000 people had
downloaded it. And when you use it you can take a two metre
screen and show video on it with HSDPA and you have high
It's a bit too early to say exactly what that will do to his
network loading, "but people have the feeling of their mobile
office with their laptop as if they are directly plugged into
the internet. That's the big point. You don't have the feeling
that you're wireless. It's really great."
It's been rolled out in Vienna and will be in the main
cities by the middle of the year. "UMTS coverage will be
identical with HSDPA coverage," he adds. The tariffing "is
absolutely the same for all data — GPRS, EDGE, UMTS,
HSDPA, all the same". Mobilkom offers a 500 megabyte package
for €29.90 a month, a promotional offer at €10 less
than it will eventually be. "People understand the tariffing.
It's €30 and that's enough."
People "are receiving huge PowerPoint presentations without
any problems". And the uplink speeds are better. Downlink speed
is 1.8 megabits; uplink is 384 kilobits maximum. "That's
maximum of course. The normal throughput on the downlink is
somewhere around one megabit, which is more than comparable
with DSL, you know. But with DSL you can do more. No doubt
And he doesn't worry that some people might be trying to use
HSDPA for voice over IP. "The on net call is one cent or zero
cents. What's the difference? It's much better they pay us
€30 for the card. No problem."
What about investment plans in the network? "We have very
clear plans for a next generation network, which is a fully IP
network. But we are the incumbent, and we have a lot of
equipment, so we will not throw everything away for new. That's
not the point."
The company plans "a normal evolution" in equipment and
services. "Technology will exist in parallel. We will make a
normal migration and evolution." GTB
Revenues: €1.72 billion (+2.4%)
Adjusted EBITDA: €612.8 million (+3.3%)
Operating income: €358.8 million (+5.2%)
ARPU: €35.90/month (-2.4%)
Customers: 3.39 million (+3.6%)
Mobile penetration: 106.0%
Market share: 39.1%
Revenues: €2.49 billion (+17.1%)
Adjusted EBITDA: €969 million (+26.6%)
Operating income (EBIT): €552.2 million
Employees: 6,038 (+66.6%)
Customers: 8.96 million (81.1%)
CEO of Mobilkom Austria since May 2000
Also CEO of Telecom Austria from May 2006
Born in 1957 in Sarajevo, then in Yugoslavia but now the
capital of Bosnia Herzegovina
1980: degree in electrical engineering from Technical
University of Sarajevo
1988-1990: assistant lecturer at the Institute of
Communications and Radio Frequency Engineering, Vienna
University of Technology, Austria
1990: graduated from the Vienna University of Technology
Directed the mobile communications development department for
Ascom and Bosch Telekom in Vienna, Austria; Solothurn,
Switzerland; and Berlin, Germany
1997: Hired by Mobilkom Austria as department head for network
From November 1998, led the team at VIPnet, Mobilkom Austria's
From 2001, in addition to his post as CEO of Mobilkom Austria,
Nemsic's responsibility for the board's technology
In July 2002, appointed to the managing board of Telekom
Austria as COO Wireless
Married and the father of two children