WE COME TOGETHER, WE GROW TOGETHER
Thousands of people at MagtiCom are working toward ensuring the quality of full communication services provided by the company. What values unite them? Where is the development of mobile technology headed? What does it mean to be pursuing the Georgian cause in the era of globalization? These questions from Neostudio are answered by Vasil Melikidze, MagtiCom’s Chief Technology Officer.
Tbilisi V. Komarov School of Physics and Mathematics
Tbilisi State University, Master’s degree in Microprocessor Physics and Programming Science
George Washington University’s School of Business, Master’s degree in Project Management
Over the years, you’ve held different positions at MagtiCom. What are your responsibilities today?
My duties include ensuring the smooth operation of MagtiCom’s network, technological progress and development, a task I’m carrying out together with almost 700 employees. In 1997, still very young and fresh out of university, I started work as a network integration engineer. Although the company was just taking its first steps at the time, you could feel the Georgian spirit and a Western working environment a mile away. I was in charge of the installation of Motorola base stations. At the same time, I was able to gain knowledge of the latest telecommunications equipment available in that period. A few years later, I served in a managerial positions under projects designed to set up a network together with various international operators. The international experience I had accumulated abroad proved very valuable in terms of both knowledge and culture. I happened to have worked and shared experience with representatives of various ethnicities and cultures, notably the British, working together with whom at that time helped me see clearly what perfect project planning and management is about, something that would come very handy later in my work.
How would you assess the company’s resources from the point of view of professional and career growth? What’s your personal experience in this regard?
When I returned to MagtiCom in 2004, I was tasked with heading the integration department, installation, commissioning and operating of new sites and adopting quality mechanisms. In 2014, I was appointed Chief Technology Officer. A few issues emerged on the agenda shortly, including the implementation of 4G networks and our entry into the ISP business as well, a very important aspect for offering our subscribers full-fledged communications services. It should be noted that optic cables are recommended for 4G networks and without this infrastructure 5G communication is not possible. The company’s partners were quick to rise to the challenge, and eventually we decided to acquire Caucasus Online and Delta-Comm. Two of the largest financial deals in MagtiCom’s history and Georgia’s telecommunications industry were executed to turn us into the first Fixed-Mobile Convergence (FMC) operator in our country’s market. We made a huge investment, replacing the entire core network and IPTV infrastructure and succeeding in covering new areas with FTTX connectivity. We built a perfect network, maintaining the lead in the mobile business sphere as well as becoming the number one ISP player in the Georgian market.
As for career growth in general, like me, most of the company’s upper and middle management started in lower positions and moved up the ladder over time, another reason why working for MagtiCom is an honor – one’s attitude toward work and business is really appreciated.
What corporate values distinguish MagtiCom from other companies in this industry? And what underpins its success?
There are many components here. I’ll try to focus on the key aspects and be consistent in my response.
I believe that the key factor underpinning successful company management is the active engagement of the owner. When you do what you know and love, and are actively involved in daily tasks, success is guaranteed, something more noticeable when it comes to technological companies. I believe that this is what defines the success of not only MagtiCom, but also of such other global players as Apple, Microsoft, Tesla, Facebook, Google, and others.
Professionalism: we always exercise care when hiring employees. A solid theoretical background is a must along with training and professional education in every direction, as needed. This is how we put together the professional management and teams that the company stands on.
Quick decision-making: it is worth mentioning that there is almost no managerial bureaucracy at MagtiCom. Decisions that take months to approve at other companies are made here in a matter of a day, sometimes even hours. The business invariably stands by technological development – the founder’s support allows us to make quick decisions. This is what you don’t see in other companies, and this is what makes me comfortable doing my job and fulfilling my obligations. Greater effectiveness is the result.
Discipline and punctualityare equally important in our line of work. Once we set a deadline, we simply must do everything to meet it. And it’s not that hard, as long as someone punctual is in charge and the team operates properly, the result is immediately apparent. Given the specifics of our work, we have a very tight schedule, but we still manage to meet our deadlines.
No one can deny that an equally important factor is that positions at MagtiCom have always been considered among the highest paid jobs in Georgia since day one. Besides being able to work for a successful Western-type company, the welfare and comfort of our employees is also underpinned by financial motivation, an aspect treated with special attention.
Besides years of experience, you are also a professionally trained project manager.
What are the core standards of effective management?
Being professionally educated in management does not necessarily mean that you will make a good manager. Apart from books there is also experience. One must have the necessary personal qualities to go with theoretical knowledge. You must be able to take an individual approach with everyone, correctly understand their motivations, and manage accordingly. In short, theoretical knowledge alone is not enough to succeed. Sometimes it happens that professionals with good knowledge of their jobs fail to become one with the team – another mandatory requirement in technological companies. Besides professional interaction, I also maintain a good rapport on a personal level with my current coworkers. And this, among other things, simplifies business communication and makes it easier to solve all kinds of issues. I am part of a very strong team, and this is another factor contributing to effective management. MagtiCom is one big family where we spend a big portion of our lives and where we all share one common goal of being the best at what we do. And I think we are successful in this.
Quality is MagtiCom’s key message. How do you control quality?
For MagtiCom, quality is consistently given priority and significance. Since the beginning we’ve been seen as a technology-oriented company. First, let me highlight that Gia Jokhtaberidze himself has a PhD in technological sciences, a very important factor for both business and me personally. He is very comfortable to communicate with, consequently making it easy to manage work. Launching each new project, we first develop an innovation, make sure it works, and then, with full technical readiness in place, collaborate with the commercial team, promoting and positioning the end-product. I have worked abroad, and I’m often on international business trips, and I can assure you that MagtiCom’s network is one of the best in the world in terms of both coverage and quality.
Alongside subscribers, the notion that ours is the best network in the country is proved by umlaut, an independent global company that conducted tests independently from us. Their study encompassed big cities and rural areas alike, also main roads and connectors. The quality of MagtiCom’s voice and data service was tested using a variety of technologies (LTE/ UMTS/GSM). In February 2021, we were awarded Best in Test Certificate. I’m very proud of this achievement and the MagtiCom team.
Every morning, I receive dozens of KPI reports on the network’s operation. We analyze monthly and annual results separately. Each technical department studies the outcomes and carries out diagnostics accordingly. Mistakes might happen, but thanks to out organizational structure, risks are minimized. I believe that we have one of the perfectly organized structures, and this is an equally important factor toward proper business operation. Accordingly, we have top-quality services, a goal we work 24/7 to achieve. And the result is obvious as Magti is associated with quality, and this is also the part of our personal and corporate culture.
Using simple everyday terms to illustrate technological achievements, in what ways have MagtiCom’s communications services changed the lives of our country’s citizens?
Technological progress has simplified and accelerated our lives, also bringing communities closer. People are given a chance to enjoy more communication. Still, these changes are best visible in critical situations. There are many examples. I would personally recall the Borjomi wildfire case, when we rapidly set up a mobile base station for victim-rescuer communication. As a result, the rescue operation accelerated tremendously. We also have a base station on the road to Mkinvartsveri (Mount Kazbegi). Alpinists are streaming live videos, not just making calls, while climbing. In some cases, MagtiCom’s fast, quality communication has saved the lives of people stranded in the mountains. I must also mention that we provide special coverage for almost all major and important areas, an approach not found in many countries. High-quality communication services foster business development in various directions, and this naturally has an impact on our country’s economy.
In what ways have the latest telecommunications achievements changed the workflow and communication with subscribers in your company?
During the pandemic, the lifestyles and demands of subscribers changed. Users found themselves in need of video, along with audio, for learning and working remotely. Video conferences were used to hold classes, training sessions, meetings. Because many people moved to the regions, the 4G network grew bigger there. In response to growing demand, MagtiCom made additional investments in further developing its network, of course.
If a similar pandemic had taken place a decade ago, many businesses, most likely, would have collapsed, and the death toll would have been higher. Spreading information via social networks and video communication quickly changed people’s awareness and attitudes.
During the pandemic, we at MagtiCom used video calls for communication. But I still believe that nothing can replace personal interaction, especially when it comes to important business decisions. Gradually, we went back to the office, which is good. Much can be done remotely, but most technical things require onsite work. For example, you cannot install an optic cable to connect subscribers, set up equipment, or build a tower working from home. This is one of the specifics of our industry.
You attend the MWC World Congress every year, participating in industry-specific forums and familiarizing yourself with the latest achievements in mobile communication. Where do you see Georgia on the world’s technological map?
Because of the pandemic, the demand for data volume and speed has skyrocketed, though somewhat slowing down technological development at the same time. The Mobile World Congress in Barcelona took a two-year break, and even the one finally held the following year was quite limited. If no more similar global challenges arise in the future, this industry will successfully advance toward its goal. Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR), the Internet of Things (IoT), Smart homes, Artificial Intelligence (AI), and others constitute the future of this field. Service Orchestration, a term that is more frequently being used in modern technology, stands for the process of designing, creating, delivering, and monitoring any demanded services in an automated way -including communications between things, machines, and human beings in contemporary ecosystems, guaranteeing the required quality of service indicators. Low latency, high speed—this is what the world wants from operators in terms of technological advancement. And now it is the turn of business to keep pace. It has always been and will be the prerequisite for the development of agriculture, manufacturing, various businesses, and the country’s economy in general. This is the direction technological progress is taking to change our everyday lives for the better.
I am an optimist, and I believe that, in a few years, many services requiring 5G will emerge in Georgia. But introducing the 5G network is not entirely up to us. Like I said, it’s important for the state and the private sector to become users of smart devices, providers of hi-tech services. And users must be technologically motivated, too. We are doing everything to promote self-development among our subscribers. But sometimes it so happens that owners of the latest iPhone have their internet connection off. They don’t use it. In a word, if the business sector and users are require it, MagtiCom will be quick to provide support.
A bridge between Europe and Asia -this is our biggest geographical advantage, and one that will enhance our geopolitical status as long as things are properly managed. It is essential for Georgia to become a hub between these two continents and this must be our goal. Over the past 20 or so years, Georgia has been a major implementing partner in such groundbreaking projects as the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline, the Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum gas pipeline and the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway, thereby raising the country’s strategical importance in both the region and globally. Today data transmission takes top priority in communications, the demand for which increases on a daily basis, and we should be leaders here as well. This will be beneficial not only from a financial point of view but will also prioritize our country’s place on the world map, accelerate economic development and provide additional security guarantees.
Generally, communication is one of the most important fields behind the country’s economic development. MagtiCom has been consistent in implementing new technologies and premium services. In this context, I believe we are among the leaders on the world map.
Twenty-five years have passed since MagtiCom started its operation. Please describe what has proved to be feasible to accomplish over this period and what has not.
This 25-year period has been crucial for our corporate growth. Not many operators around the world manage to stay the course, keep the same goals and leadership, and maintain leading positions for so long. We have learned a lot and overcome numerous problems or obstacles over these years. But this doesn’t mean that we should stop. On the contrary, we must keep on developing. Although MagtiCom is a leader, constant progress is a must. The field of technology never stops and continually progresses, so we must keep step with it. I am confident that we have been giving it our all since launching our operations, being on top of every innovation and adopting the latest technologies and services. Frankly speaking, without support from the business aspect, surely, we wouldn’t have accomplished so much. I must also add, to MagtiCom’s credit, that fresh ideas are always appreciated here, ultimately benefiting our subscribers.
We are working toward the Georgian cause. What does this phrase mean to you? Do you feel engaged?
If MagtiCom’s management focused only on business and profit, we wouldn’t have this credo. Our every step seeks to offer opportunities for development to Georgian citizens. We are doing everything for the country to progress.
As I mentioned earlier, telecommunications lead the country’s development. We are preparing every ground for business in our homeland to develop technologically and claim a leading position in the global market. We need assistance from the state, and various other sectors must also follow suit. No doubt, Georgia will accelerate its progress, which will only benefit our future generations.
With the country’s security interests in mind, we have base stations in places with no subscribers, an investment with no possibility of return. Nonetheless, covering the borders of the country is our priority. We’re doing all this with strong support from the business. Everyone in the company, the founders and employees alike, is driven by one thing: we love our country and MagtiCom with all our hearts. I remember rushing right back to the company and sharing my experience with colleagues after returning from working abroad. I wanted to put it all to use for the benefit of our country. Now I realize that participation in international projects years ago was made possible by the knowledge and experience acquired by me at MagtiCom. Since 1997, we have been coming and growing together. MagtiCom has raised and shaped me into what I am today. I feel indebted, and I want to repay the company with loyalty and hard work.