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Mobile operators imitate invaders Hans Wijayasuriya’s career that led Dialog to market leadership has been extraordinary for more reasons than just the firm’s financial performance. Dialog’s financial success is now well established - it is the largest teleco by revenue and the most profitable. However, for a private firm to be able to profitably meet the needs of the poor, it needs to empower those economically marginalised segments of the community by making them customers rather than cases for charity. This is perhaps Wijayasuriya’s greater achievement, his single-minded focus that led to millions of Sri Lankans being empowered by high quality yet affordable mobile communication. The industry has evolved since, and even Sri Lankans aren’t as poor as they were a decade or two ago. Dialog now faces a set of challenges quite different to those it encountered in the first couple of decades. The rise of the smartphone has been a mixed blessing for mobile network operators. It’s estimated that over 40% of mobile phones in Sri Lanka are smart devices. This has opened the door to newcomers like VOIP and messaging apps that are undermining the core revenues of telcos the world over. In developing markets, telcos are reliant on voice and messaging revenue to invest in expanding their networks. Mobile operators now have to imitate the invaders, which are often global Internet giants or dynamic startups. Few telcos will be able to successfully manage this transition. Those that don’t will become attractive takeover targets. Imitating invaders is challenging on many levels as we discuss in the cover story.

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