Udovičić: We go up against the very best

The firm at the centre of Montenegro’s telecommunications industry is actively involved in shaping the industry’s future as well as following its development. Crnogorski Telekom is more than just a service provider; it is synonymous with innovation, stability, and commitment to users. Behind this corporation sits its CEO, StjepanUdovičić, whose leadership and vision are vital to sustaining the leadership position in Montenegro.
We spoke to Mr.Udovičić about the country’s telecommunications challenges, goals, and future plans in an exclusive interview for our magazine.
• Crnogorski Telekom maintained its position as the country’s leading provider of telecommunications services throughout your term in office. What do you think are the most important reasons for your network remaining Montenegro’s market leader?
There are a number of reasons why my company was able to becomeMontenegro’s market leader in the telecoms industry and keep that position throughout my term in office. Consistent spending on the network (both mobile and fixed) is crucial to maintaining market dominance.
Although there is no digital service development without reliable and stable infrastructure, our private and public sector partners have every right to expect us to bring a high level of expertise and initiative to the table when we discuss ways to enhance their operations and the provision of services to clients and citizens, but it is equally important to keep the focus on innovation and the development of new services that meet the needs of the market.
Maintaining a high level of customer support and adapting our services to their needs necessitated, last but not least, the enhancement of internal procedures through digitalization and automation of numerous operations. All while nurturing a culture that values innovations, an entrepreneurialmindset, and user-centricity in the workplace.
Provide examples of major investments and infrastructure upgrades made during your tenure that aided in enhancing the network and user experience.
We began a massive initiative to upgrade the mobile network about a year and a half ago, and in that time we’ve upgraded half of the base stations to the 5G standard and modernised more than half of the locations across Montenegro.
As a result, Crnogorski Telekom’s 4G and 5G mobile networksare the largest and quickest in the country, with the greatest average speeds compared to the competition, as confirmed by the most recent official report from the Electronic Communications Agency (EKIP). Also, roughly 40 percent of the overall internet traffic in the country takes place through the Telekom mobile network.
I would like to emphasise that we are particularly proud of our 5G mobile network, which we were the first to put into commercial operation in Montenegro. Thus, we first introduced a commercial 5G network, where we achieved gigabit speeds, and then introduced a commercial 5G network operating at high frequencies. Only a few months after,we covered 50% of the population, and currently, 82% of the population is within range of a 5G signal. The most 5G spectrum was leased by us at the auction last year, setting the stage for Telekom to have a significant competitive advantage over the course of the next 15 years.
The efforts and investments made to enhance the network’s infrastructure have not gone unnoticed by our customers; as a result, we finished the third quarter as market leaders in terms of user satisfaction, and customers particularly remarked on how pleased they were with our mobile network, so we ended September in first place in that segment as well.
Of course, we’re not ignoring the fixed network either; expanding the fixed optical network is still a top priority for Telekom, and I’m happy to report that we’ve made progress towards our goal of covering 70% of households in Montenegro with our fibre optic network by the end of the year.
The telecoms sector is dynamic and dynamically changing. What were and how have you, as CEO, dealt with the most significant challenges that have arisen this past year?
Even in much larger markets than the one in Montenegro, the telecommunications industry has caught a speed that is impossible to match, and there were many obstacles to overcome. On the other hand, the benefit of the Montenegrin market resides in the fact that all new technologies may be applied in the entire country in a short amount of time and that, in the process, it can quickly pivot in a direction that shows to be more suitable and efficient.
In addition, representatives of the economy in Montenegro, including the members of the Croatian-Montenegrin Business Club, which I am at the head of, continue to advocate for an open market economy and a stable, predictable regulatory, tax, and economic environment, which are key to planning and successful business management and improving people’s living standards generally. Large projects, including the rollout of new VoLTE and VoWiFi technologies that we demonstrated first in the country and the construction of the 5G network, have the backing and understanding of the state and decision-makers, and I hope that this trend continuesgoing forward, so that all residents and businessmen in Montenegro have access to cutting-edge business standards as quickly as feasible.
How does Crnogorski Telekom help advance Montenegro’s digitalization and technology? What kinds of initiatives or projects have received funding in this context?
The growth of both infrastructure and technology is required in this context, since the former serves as the ‘nervous system’ of a nation, while the latter cannot exist without it if sophisticated digital technologies and solutions are to be put into place.
In keeping with our tradition as a trailblazer in Montenegro’s infrastructure development, we recently discontinued some older technologies to pave the way for the launch of a new, more advanced mobile network for Telekom customers. Although groundbreaking when it was introduced, today’s 3G network has fallen far behind the more modern 4G and 5G networks that have been constructed in Montenegro and simply cannot be compared to them. It is precisely on this fact that we base the plan for the gradual shutdown of the 3G network – which will be fully executed by the end of this year – in order to fully focus spectrum, resources and attention on the future development of 5G and 4G technologies.
This decision coincides with the world trend of shutting down 3G technology, which is led by technologically advanced countries such as Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan, Germany, and at Telekom, we are proud to be among the global telecommunications leaders who have created the conditions for a complete transition to the network of the future, and that’s how we also wrote Montenegro on this map.
In addition, thanks to the upgrades we’ve made to our fixed optical network, Telekom is now equipped to handle symmetrical data transmission at extremely high speeds (on optics up to 10 Gb/s in both directions), which will be essential for interactive services like augmented reality/virtual reality (AR/VR), gaming, IPTV, video on demand, etc. in the near future.
By positioning Telekom as a stable and always-available service for users, the mobile network upgrade helps set Crnogorski Telekom apart in the market. This is especially important for the company, the state, the economy, and the users during the summer, when Internet traffic increases by 50 percent from the rest of the year. Crnogorski Telekom’s combined fixed and mobile network traffic totals 600 terabytes per day, illustrating the massive scale and volume of traffic for which we must provide availability.
Telecommunications are essential for the economy. How did you work to strengthen ties between Telekom and other industries to boost Montenegro’s economy?
There’s a lot of talk about digitising services in Montenegro, but you can count on Telekom to deliver real results. Our experts have extensive experience working with both Telekom and DT Group, giving us the insight we need to serve our customers, the government of Montenegro, and the general public, whom we’ll be happy to assist as consultants, by broadening their perspectives, andas service providers.
Crnogorski Telekom, for instance, is the only provider of eTrust services such as electronic signature, time stamp, identity, verification, and delivery of digitally signed documents; through a partnership with the government of Montenegro, we are working hard to make these cutting-edge business practices widely available to the people of Montenegro quickly. We will keep working with groups like the Chamber of Commerce of Montenegro to make sure that the private public sector in Montenegro makes good use of the cutting-edge resources we provide.
How do you intend to tackle new challenges and advance Telekom further in the following year?
As Telekom continues its digital transformation, we will have several chances to pursue in the coming year. Our primary goal is to lead the way in technological innovation in the country and to improve living standards and opportunities in the community in which we operate.
The first step towards this goal is the continued expansion and upgrading of our gigabit network infrastructure. We are committed to providing our customers with a high-speed, dependable internet connection, a need in today’s technological world. Our commitment to providing superior mobile and fixed networks includes funding ongoing investments in infrastructure, technology, and security.
We’re going to need our strongest individuals and teams to get us there. Our employees are our most valuable asset, so we put a lot of effort into helping them grow professionally. To further ensure our teams are adaptable to change and can be relied upon to provide cutting-edge solutions, we emphasise an environment of innovation and teamwork.
Third, we’re dedicated to forming partnerships and collaborations with businesses both locally and across the Deutsche Telekom Group to tackle complex challenges. When it comes to furthering the progress of digital technology, we welcome the sharing of information and resources.
Finally, in order to take advantage of emerging opportunities, we keep a close eye on how the requirements and expectations of our consumers and the market are evolving. Flexibility and agility are key features of our approach, which will allow us to quickly adapt to different markets and other circumstances in the future.
Finally, how do you see the future of telecommunications in Montenegro, and what are your aims for the rest of your tenure?
The telecommunications industry in Montenegro is characterised by annual Internet traffic growth of 50%, making new investments in network technologies a need. In addition, our goal is to provide a service at a level that is in line with the expectations of users, both residents and the business sector. With that, we established our goals: to provide a user experience on par with the most cutting-edge offerings from around the world. In this way, we don’t just compare ourselves to national norms, but to those of the entire region and beyond. When viewed in this light and along this road, we are only getting started, and a lot is ahead.
As a result, we anticipate changes to the regulations, which will free the industry from some parafiscal taxes and allow for the reallocation of those monies to investment opportunities. Since our industry relies on top-notch workers, we’re also rooting for the liberalisation of labour legislation, a problem that plagues businesses across the country. These alterations would allow us to entice the market’s most talented individuals and hold on to them for the long haul.