Tale of Two Presidents

Posted on Saturday, June 09, 2012

The annual Colombian Engineers Association (ACIEM) telecommunications conference last week (May 30th and 31st) is always an occasion to see the leaders of the Colombian industry on their best form.

Full Disclosure: I am on the organizing committee and have been for many years.

But I was particularly struck by the contrast between the ETB presentation by Saul Kattan Cohen and the UNE presentation by Marc Eichmann. Joined I suppose by the fact that both companies are municipal phone companies, they both are known by three-letter names and both have recently hired presidents from outside the company or the political sphere  whose ancestors did not come over from Spain at the time of the conquest (both highly unusual characteristics in Colombian telecom), the two presentations couldn’t have been more different.

The ETB presentation was serious, factual, well reasoned. A classic technocratic presentation, given in a quiet matter that frankly made Saul look shy. Americans would accuse him of having a charisma deficit I suppose. His ardor for his company only flashed when he was asked about a lawsuit with Comcel but otherwise he was calm and kept his voice low. He isn’t that way at all really but maybe it wasn’t his best morning in front of 200 engineers.

By contrast, Marc Eichmann was a marketing machine. He was always selling something and he didn’t let facts get in the way of a good story. If he were Irish instead of Swiss, they would say he had kissed the Blarney Stone.

I was particularly struck by the use of iPhone imagery throughout his presentation about the company’s LTE services. Every slide had an iPhone. Every analogy was with an iPhone. He even took an iPhone out of his pocket, waved it at the crowd and said he had LTE phones to show to people afterward if they wanted to see it. Even I was convinced that after they launched services in June you could walk into any UNE sales point and pick up an LTE iPhone.

There is no LTE iPhone.

There is supposed to be an iPhone 5 this fall which is supposed to be LTE. I suppose UNE MIGHT be in the front row of operators getting the iPhone 5 but somehow I doubt it.

Even Eichmann’s great selling point at the beginning – a live demonstration of the speed of LTE was tinged by a certain “flexibility” with the truth. He showed the live network running at 22 Mbps which could be expected since the network is pre-launch and he has no customers in the area of Club Nogal (except perhaps his own phone whatever brand it is).

But then he had the audacity to say that they had tested it under load conditions at 15 Mbps which nobody I spoke to who has any real knowledge of LTE believes.

Pure Blarney

I predict that both will do well. Saul’s quiet competence will serve him well with his cerebral boss (Bogota’ mayor Gustavo Petro) and Marc’s hucksterism will hopefully mean that UNE won’t screw up the LTE launch as they have screwed up so many wireless ventures in the past.

Bottom Line: Both municipally-owned Colombian telcos are venturing into a wireless world with new presidents untainted by prolonged exposures to either politicians or internal bureaucracy. Comcel and Movistar should not be complacent.

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