You have been present in Serbia for over 10 years and you are one of the largest investors. How do you evaluate the effectiveness of your investments in Serbia following all the political and economic changes?
We are extremely proud of the fact that we are the largest single investor in Serbia, with initial investment of 1.53 billion euros. We believe in the investment climate in Serbia, which we have proven repeatedly. During our ten years in Serbia, we have invested more than 445 million euros in the development of infrastructure and services, with a desire to further improve the user experience and find new digital solutions that will make life easier for citizens. We have proven that we did the right thing by entering the Serbian market with yet another big investment – the opening of Telenor Bank, the first and only online bank in the region.
How do you assess the trends in the telecommunications sector in Serbia; what can we expect this year and next?
The implementation of technology neutrality and spectrum auctions that were held in Serbia last year, opened up the possibility of developing a fourth generation network. Telenor is rapidly expanding map coverage and, after covering the whole of Serbia with 3G signal, we set out to continue the expansion of 4G networks. We have emphasised towns and larger cities, so practically all settlements with more than ten thousand people will have a 4G network.
Given that Serbian citizens are very advanced internet users, we have already tested the 5G network, which will have very little delay in the transfer of data and will be one of the preconditions for the development of innovative technologies, particularly are such as the automotive industry, energy industry, e-health, manufacturing and entertainment.
Our intention is to provide users with faster and easier to use existing and new e-government services via mobile platforms, but also to ensure the safety of business on the internet through Telenor Safe – our new digital service for business users.
Speaking at a recent press conference of the Nordic Business Alliance in Serbia (NBA), you again advocated the introduction of an electronic signature, as one of the prerequisites for reducing bureaucracy. What are the odds that your initiative, after so many years, will become a reality?
For us, it is very important to simplify the use of the electronic signature and make it available to as many citizens as possible. We believe that their everyday life would become easier and much less time would be spent on unnecessary bureaucracy and paperwork. Although it is legally equated with a personal signature, the use of electronic signatures in practice is minimal, and more than 95 per cent of the population has never owned a qualified electronic certificate.
There is a common interest among the state, companies and citizens for this player stats change. The draft Law on Electronic Documents, electronic identification and services of confidence in electronic commerce, which should comprehensively regulate this area, is currently under public debate. We believe that there is good will of the state and that this opportunity will not be missed, and that the new law will allow wider use of electronic signatures, and thus the development of electronic commerce in general.
Serbian citizens are very advanced internet users, so we have recently tested the 5G network. When the country acquires all the legal preconditions, Telenor will be ready for the next generation network, which will enable the further development of related industries and will launch a completely new era of interconnected devices.
What are the specific benefits of the introduction of the Electronic Registry of Signatures for citizens and businesses?
The benefits would be huge, both for citizens and for the economy. At this time, any transaction requires special hardware (USB, smart card) and special software (which is often complicated for the average user), as well as a series of formalities followed by the costs of issuing qualified certificates. By applying the concept for which we stand, all that would be much simpler. Citizens could, for example, easily and efficiently conclude long-distance contracts. Instead of thinking about how much money and time they need to perform a job for which their physical presence is currently necessary, in the case of a simplified electronic signature we could implement the transaction regardless of where the seat of the seller or supplier is located. In addition, an electronic signature is a prerequisite for the realisation of the ambitions of the Serbian government to digitise public administration, which will enable citizens to complete their administrative duties from home, without waiting in line.
For the economy, it would create the possibility for their business to morph from traditional to electronic, reducing operating costs and increasing efficiency. Businesses could also offer more digital content and services to customers.
There has long been talk about the implementation of digitisation in Serbia, which NALED and the Ministry of Public Administration insist on. What do you see as the priorities in this area?
The priorities in this area are primarily related to the digitisation of services and content that would be of concern to citizens. These are the services of e-government that would allow them to easily and frequently use the services of local and national governments without waiting in line. Through the electronic or mobile solutions that Telenor (m-government) proposes, citizens would be able to do all of that through their mobile phones. Here I would point out the fact that the current mobile phone penetration is 130 per cent, which means that in Serbia currently there are more active mobile phones than inhabitants.
We want to be a convergent, digital operator and to provide a comprehensive end-user experience. Telenor has further confirmed this approach through the services of Telenor Bank.
Regional cooperation, which the EU insists on, implies better communication among countries, but also technological compatibility in the communications sector in the Western Balkans. What could be brought to our region from that sector based on the experience of the Nordic countries?
The Nordic countries have recognised the potential that regional cooperation carries, and so today, in addition to substantial natural resources, they can boast of operating in Europe’s most developed markets of electronic communications. This fact certainly contributed to the early liberalisation of the telecommunications market and the support given to large capacity investments. Commitment to the development of digital services and “Cloud” solutions enabled an additional boost to the overall economic development of the Nordic region. The area of the Western Balkans has great potential for further economic development in the further liberalisation of the market and through the provision of conditions for regional Cloud solutions as soon as possible.
When it comes to the global IT sector in Serbia, we can agree that the required human resources exist. Where is Serbia in comparison to developed countries, including Nordic countries?
Serbia does not lag behind European standards in terms of the quality of IT professionals, on the contrary. As an example, I would mention that our engineers are highly regarded in Norway and other countries where Telenor operates, and are often involved in many global projects. I think this is the best indicator of how much potential we have for the future development of engineers and developers in Serbia.