Allen Lew, CEO, Group Digital life at SingTel: “Let Someone Else Be the Dumb, Fat, Pipe”

SingTel is the world’s second largest wireless group, owning all or part of 8 APAC wireless carriers and 462 million subscribers, across 26 countries. In April, the company restructured into three business units- Consumer, ICT and Digital- naming Allen Lew to transform SingTel into a multimedia market leader. At the HTIA conference in Jerusalem last week, Allen discussed reinvention, Asian markets and areas of strategic opportunity.

Disruption: “Telcos have to do something drastic to make sure we do not lose our engagement with customers. The fixed-line world of telcos are increasingly big, fat, dumb pipes. These implications were looked at seriously by SingTel and we decided we had to transform ourselves.  We see the changes happening in the internet space as an opportunity for companies like ours, with the unique assets we have accumulated over the years. We welcome partners who share the same ‘blue ocean, open sky’ view, even if they are disruptive in the short-term”.
History of Reinvention: SingTel’s history dates back 130 years and is the largest telco in Singapore. In the late 1980’s, the company embarked on a regionalization drive, investing in leading Asian markets. Today, SingTel is second only to China Mobile. One example is entering the Pay TV market in Singapore. Now we have around 8 million Pay TV customers across our markets.
Digital Growth Opportunities: Digital includes permission-based information about customer preferences. Network intelligence enables our services to be truly targeted. Together with key technologies we have, we can shape the future of the connected society. This is an ambitious goal to define the way people discover, share and communicate. First we will leverage the assets we have, analyzing consumer preferences to come up with relevant and distinctive services and tapping the creative community around the world for innovative products.
Asian Growth: One of our key strengths is understanding the consumer in Asia and APAC. Asia and APAC is #1 the most populous region in the globe. Majority of that is in developing markets. APAC continues to be, over the last 5 years and for the next 5 years, the world’s fastest region for growth. The population across Asia includes over 50% youth (percentage of population under 25 years of age). There is a vociferous appetite for digital products and services, not only by Gen Y.
Even in the emerging markets of Asia, we see cheaper Smartphones and the impact of mobile and fixed broadband networks. China overtook the United States in Q2 as the world’s largest Smartphone market. The demand for high quality digital products is growing with network expansion. Our consumers want choice, personalization and immediacy so our priorities are based directly on customer needs.
Focus #1: Redefine the TV / video experience. In developed markets, that means coming up with the ability to read customer viewing behavior and present targeted, relevant content. In developing markets, we plan to bring TV through better encoding techniques to feature phones. The mobile handset is the only device they use to access the internet and get information.
Focus #2: Use mobile devices to discover happenings in the real world. That includes using the personalized effect of mobile to reshape the shopping experience with targeted deals and scanning the environment to redeem loyalty. With the mobile advertising platform from Amobee (SingTel’s $321 million acquisition of the Israeli mobile advertising technology platform), we will be able to add context for customers in both developed and developing markets.
Focus #3: Create a personal digital life-stream. There is value in creating a layer that allows people to better manage their content and allows them to prioritize moments that matter from people that matter to them. It is like having a personal assistant that works on any device.
Three Factors for Ongoing Success: Besides making strategic acquisitions (including Israeli mobile ad:tech company Amobee earlier this year), our continued success requires three things: Open Partnerships, investing in innovation and bold execution of our plans. We are taking a risk, a giant leap into the digital space. We need to tap the creativity and resources across the world. That means entering into complimentary partnerships with other telcos and OTT providers. SingTel has already built sizable scale and customer reach through such partnerships. It is also means investment through a $200 million fund ($164 million USD) called Innov8. Our attitude is ‘go far, stay long, see deep’. To be a truly great company, we cannot be afraid of traveling in search of new opportunities. We are a telco with a transformed mindset to be a multimedia ICT company.