Telia Company’s past continues to haunt it.
While its latest financials make decent enough reading – sales were up marginally at home, and down by about a percentage overall – the operator slipped to a SEK 8.81 billion (€910 million) loss in Q3 on the back of a SEK 12.5 billion (€1.29 billion) settlement related to bribery claims over its entry into Uzbekistan back in 2007.
The Uzbek fallout has overshadowed its every move for months, and, in a market where openness and transparency are written into the constitution, the revelation of past errors has been hard to bear.
As a group, Telia wants to move on.
Helene Barnekow, Chief Executive Officer at Telia Sweden, refers to it as “historical”, and “regrettable”, but says it does not materially impact its operations or future strategy in Sweden.
“We’re eager to put it behind us, in a good way,” she says.
“From the point of view of our Swedish operations, it’s unfortunate, of course, but it doesn’t really affect us, or change anything in our strategy or execution.”
Does it mean less money is available, effectively, to deliver on objectives?
“No, it doesn’t; I mean, we have two big investment areas – fibre, and digital transformation. Both of those are on track.”
Whether or not its hand has been forced by its undoing in Uzbekistan, Telia Company is moving to consolidate its international footprint and expand its reach at the same time – to go further in fewer markets.
“We want to focus on being the leading operator across the Nordics and Baltics,” explains Barnekow.
It has put up for sale its majority shares in Tadjik operator Tcell and Fintur Holdings, which has operations in Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Georgia and Moldova, as part of its long withdrawal from the ‘Eurasia’ region; the first has already been picked up by the Aga Kahn Foundation for Economic Development (AKFED).
It has quit Spain and Nepal in parallel, with the sale of mobile operators Yoigo and Ncell, respectively.
The strategy is to provide access and support around the convergence of media services in the consumer market, and of ICT services in the enterprise market, Barnekow says.
The CEO adds that Telia wants to be “a new-generation telco” in all of its markets it operates in.
It’s a term the company has made good use of in media engagements in general.
The choice for operators is between plugging efficiencies just to survive, or developing capabilities to reinvent and revive, reckons Barnekow.
“It’s about doing more for customers as well, and being more relevant to them. We don’t just build a network, but help people to use it.
“How can we be more relevant to them? How do we help them get more from their digital lives?”
To those ends, Telia is upgrading its infrastructure and rolling out new services across its footprint.
It has just introduced its first consumer IoT application for the car, called Telia Sense, a cloud based solution that combines an app and an after-market piece of hardware.
The idea is to connect-up older cars, which either pre-date the digital era, with 4G Wi-Fi and partner services such as maintenance, insurance and roadside assistance.
It works on the same principle as its connected home platform, Telia Zone, set for launch at the end of the year.
“We’re enabling the customer; it’s like we’re giving them a hug,” says Barnekow.
Both are open platforms, she notes.
“Our thinking is different to what it would have been a couple of years back. It’s not only about us.
“We’re not presenting customers with a limited range of Telia components, telling them we’re going to manage their homes.
“We’re collaborating with different companies in a very open way.”
This is an extract from an interview that will appear in Q4 issue of European Communications magazine. Click here to subscribe