Interview with Michael Tsamaz, Chairman & CEO, OTE Group, Greece

Interview with Michael Tsamaz, Chairman & CEO, OTE Group, Greece


To start, let us contemplate the Greek telecom system – what are the key strengths, main characteristics of the sector, and how does it stand out again its EU counterparts?

Regarding the current competitive environment in Greece, we have 3 strong telecom players, members of international groups, who offer quality services to citizens, businesses, and the public sector, not only in connectivity, but also pay TV, ICT solutions and other digital services. The Greek market is highly competitive, resulting in continuous price reduction, enabling companies to invest the required capital to develop the networks for the Gigabit society.

Regarding fixed telephony, by the end of 2023, OTE Group alone had constructed more than 1.3 mil. FTTH lines, which represents 28% of Greece’s coverage. Within one year we added 420,000 new lines, which is a construction record. Overall Greek FTTH coverage is around 35%, which is lower than the EU average (currently at 60%). However, the pace of Greece’s progress is impressive, as we add almost 12p.p. every year, meaning that we will soon reach the EU average. There is room for improvement, but we are on a very a good trajectory.

When it comes to mobile telephony, we are above the EU average in 5G, despite the challenges of Greek geomorphology, with many islands and mountains. 5G coverage in our country is around 86%, while the EU average is 81%. COSMOTE 5G population coverage alone is above 90% and exceeds 95% in many large cities (Athens, Thessaloniki & 25 more). We are technically ready and will be the first to launch our 5G stand-alone network in Greece, which will unravel the full potential of 5G technology. The quality of our mobile network is confirmed every year both by Ookla & Umlaut. The quality of our fixed network was proved during the pandemic, as we managed to cover the massive increase of data traffic without hiccups, facilitating remote work, remote education etc.

As far as prices are concerned, there is a misperception. The prices of telecommunication services in Greece have been steadily decreasing over the years, acting deflationary, against the increase in their costs and international trends. In the most recent Consumer Price Index announcement in December 2023, while the annual index showed an increase of +3.5%, telecommunications showed a decrease of -3.2%. Accordingly, while inflation in Greece for all services and goods CPI rose to +9.65% in 2022 compared to 2021, the CPI of telecommunications services for the same period recorded a decrease of -2.44%.

We have recently formulated a reciprocal volume-based wholesale agreement between telco operators, that provides discounts up to 30% if access seekers commit to migrating their customers from copper to FTTH. Once approved and implemented, the model will contribute to a significant decrease in retail prices of FTTH through the competitive process of the market, and as a result, an accelerated transition from copper to fiber networks and faster penetration of FTTH services.

In mobile, COSMOTE’s actual average pre-tax price for data has fallen sharply by -85% compared to the first half of 2019 (from €1.6/GB to €0.3/GB), while the average usage has jumped by 9 times (from 1.4GB to 12.4GB). In fixed, the price per Mbps decreased by ~26% within two years, while in the last 4 years the prices of our most popular tariff plans have dropped by approx. 30%. Even with the EU methodology (which takes into account nominal rather than real prices, as well as Greece’s higher tax rates) Greece has moved up 7-8 places in fixed and mobile.

Regarding the country’s next major infrastructure projects, the EU-funded Ultrafast Broadband project is accelerating deployment of broadband internet in Greece by developing next generation access (NGA) infrastructure, able to deliver services at very high speeds to users in semi-urban and rural areas. We are talking about 810 thousand FTTH lines and the OTE Group, one of the two contractors (>350 thousand lines), has already started the construction. We, as the OTE Group, announced in the end of 2021 a sharp increase of investments, which will exceed €3 bn. by 2027. Through this investment plan, we will bring FTTH to 3 mn. households and businesses. Carrying this significant investment out, OTE Group will cover 2/3 of Greece’s lines with fiber optics; in addition to full coverage of COSMOTE 5G across Greece.

Of course, Greece is not among EU’s early adopters of technology, but we are closing the gap, converging towards the EU average, while our offered services are fully covering the current needs of our customers.


Could you give us an overview of OTE, its historical role, positioning and contribution to Greece’s telecom industry, and its remarkable transformation since the crisis years? 

The OTE Group is the largest investor in telecommunications networks in the country, making more than 60% of the total investments in the sector. We have been systematically investing over the last few years, even during the years of the financial crisis, around €500 million per year. Through our state-of-the-art networks, technology solutions for SMEs and the ICT projects that we implement in the public and private sector, we drive Greece’s digital growth.

OTE’s transformation over the past few years has been nothing short of remarkable. The company has come very far with a strong business plan, very much focused on customer experience. Our transformation happened in three major phases.

The first phase was in 2010, when we transformed into a modern, effective, and competitive technology company by fixing the basics and focusing on growth. We slashed our Net Debt by 83%.  We increased our revenues and profitability. We were market leaders in fixed & mobile telephony, broadband services, ICT and pay-TV. We became a love-brand for our customers and our transformation became a case study by Harvard Business School (“OTE: Managing in Times of Crisis”) and is taught around the world.

In the second phase, which started in 2016, we became a leading digital telco in Greece and a digitalization paradigm in Europe. We designed and implemented a 360 digital transformation strategy, focusing on customer, network and the company. We became leaner and more efficient, without jeopardizing our customer experience. We reduced our legacy personnel by 7,500 FTEs in a socially responsible way and proceeded with management efficiencies. We rejuvenated our workforce with 3,500 young digital talents, and we invested in the reskilling and upskilling of our people.

We are currently in the third phase of our transformation, which started in 2021 when we embarked on a new vision to become a sustainable digital services provider with a special weight for the country. In our path towards fulfilling our vision, the creation of new revenue streams by entering adjacent markets is an integral part of our strategy. ICT is a great example and another success story for us. Leveraging our network expertise, technological know-how and the experience from our own digital transformation, we became the partner of choice for businesses and the public sector. Payzy by COSMOTE, an innovative application for payments and transactions via mobile, is another great example, along with BOX, an online food delivery app, and COSMOTE Insurance, the digital insurance aggregator.

I am proud to say that the OTE Group is the 3rd largest company in Deutsche Telekom’s footprint in terms of Adjusted EBITDA (AL) contribution after the U.S.A. and Germany.


When it comes to R&D and innovation, how does OTE stand out? Tell us about the new studies OTE is part of, such as the SANDBOX 6G study and the role of OTE’s ICT Innovation Center.

R&D expenditure in 2022 in Greece exceeded €3 billion, according to preliminary data published and sent to Eurostat by the National Documentation Centre (EKT), the competent National Authority of the Hellenic Statistical System for European Research, Development and Innovation statistics. More specifically, in 2022, R&D expenditure in Greece was €3,084.82 million, an increase of €438.37 million euro compared to 2021 (growth rate of 16.6%). That is 1.49% of GDP in 2022, as opposed to 1.46% in 2021. At European level, Greece ranks 14th among the EU27 countries.

OTE Group systematically promotes research and innovation to consolidate its technological superiority, yielding multiple benefits for society, customers, the environment, while also positively impacting on its business sustainability (future products and services, technologies and telecom networks, cost and energy efficiency, new business opportunities, competitiveness, etc.). In 2009, OTE Group created the R&D to consolidate technology superiority. Since then, a dedicated specialized team has been actively participating in R&D funded projects which aim at the design and deployment of advanced infrastructures and the demonstration of innovative solutions and services.

OTE Group is currently participating in 45 innovative EU-funded R&D projects (2024). In the period 2009-2023 we participated in over 120 research projects, cooperated with over 1000 partners / organizations such as enterprises, university and research centers in Greece and other European countries. We actively contributed to the shaping and evaluating of future 5G/6G technologies, infrastructures, services and novel business models in various vertical markets. We have also taken part in many research projects aimed at Sustainable Development with benefits to society and the environment. CEF projects (such as 5G SEAGUL) especially support sustainability goals since they develop commercial large-scale infrastructures to boost new technologies and play a key role in Europe’s transformation and competitiveness.

COSMOTE is also participating in the 6G-SANDBOX European research project for the design and construction of experimental networks and the realization of tests on 6th-generation technologies. Trial networks are being implemented in Athens (Greece), Berlin (Germany), Malaga (Spain), and Oulu (Finland). These networks combine digital and physical infrastructure and are fully customizable, offering automated experimentation capabilities throughout the 6G service provision chain, both in services for end users and control and management of the network. As a project partner, COSMOTE is developing 6G experimental infrastructure in Athens, under the supervision of the National Centre for Scientific Research (NCSR) ‘Demokritos’.

Our IT Innovation Center is a proprietary Innovation Lab where experiments and developments of new technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Big Data Analytics, (NLP, ML, Machine Vision), Interactive Technologies and Robotic platforms (Drones, Mobile/HRI) are carried out. These experiments are conducted to explore their potential applications to support OTE Group business goals, such as test event driven applications (e.g. chatbots) and progressive web applications. The aim is the creation of bridges with the startup ecosystem in Greece and abroad to test new technologies in real life cases and to create digital solutions for its operations and customers. It also aims to scout the best startups in collaboration with incubators that have a presence in ecosystem events or organize events with the startup ecosystem.


How would you assess the level of digitization in Greece?

Greece improved its digital maturity level by 56% between 2018 and 2023, almost double the 30% achieved in the EU as a whole. However, it is still below the European average. Although Greece has recorded a digital leap in the last five years, it still lags slightly behind the rest of the EU in some key areas. We must accelerate transition to the digital age and fulfill the ambitious digital goals set by the European Union for 2030. The slow transition of small and medium-sized enterprises to the digital age and the unsatisfactory implementation of private investments in cutting-edge technologies are some of the issues Greece will face in the coming years.

OTE plays a major role in the digitalization of Greece and has been driving most of the country’s digitalization projects. New generation networks are the foundation of digitalization. Networks are the highways through which our digital world is connected and that is why it is key to continue investing in state-of-the-art networks. In December 2021, we announced our decision to significantly raise our investments to over €3 billion for FFTH until 2027. This is the largest investment of the last few decades in telecommunications, creating the infrastructure that will meet its future needs. It will implement Ultra-Fast Broadband network, bringing ultra-high Internet speeds of up to 1Gbps to over 350,000 households and businesses in semi-urban and rural areas.

During the COVID period it became clear to everyone that digital transformation could act as a shield against almost any crisis, resulting in the acceleration of the Greece´s digitalization. OTE designed and implemented vital projects that helped the country operate during this period. Leveraging our network expertise, technological know-how and the experience from our own digital transformation, we became the partner of choice for businesses and the public sector.

As a leading integrator, we help the public and the private sector navigate successfully to the new digital era through customized technology solutions. Paperless prescription, my Health app, National Telemedicine Network, Smart City applications in numerous cities, the mAigov “Digital Assistant”, the Data Center of Coca-Cola HBC serving 28 countries, the ICT infrastructure modernization of 14 airports for Fraport, and the innovative video-banking service for Eurobank are just a few of the projects we have implemented.


What efforts is OTE making to introduce more green technologies and circular economies in its operations?

Sustainability is a key priority for us, and it is integrated into the Group’s business strategy and operations along with ESG criteria. We operate responsibly throughout our value chain, aiming to stand as an example. Whatever we do, or plan to do, we look at it through the prism of sustainable development; from our investments in new generation networks and our services, to the ICT projects we implement, the partners we choose and the development of our people.

Our goal is not sustainability in business, but sustainable business. We focus on 4 areas: climate neutrality, circular economy throughout the value chain, inclusion & equal opportunities in the workplace and a digital Society for all.

Our five key commitments are climate neutrality for the OTE Group by 2025 and for the entire value chain by 2040, Zero ICT waste to landfill as of 2022, Collection of 400,000 mobile devices and accessories for recycling or refurbishment by 2024, Women covering at least 30% of top and senior managers’ positions by 2024, and over 10 million beneficiaries from the Group’s digital inclusion initiatives over the period 2021-2024.

In 2022, we achieved the following in terms of ESG:

  • -89% direct & indirect (from energy) ghg emissions VS 2017
  • 100% use of renewable energy sources for electricity consumption
  • 0 ICT Waste
  • >730,000 of CPEs & mobile devices collected & sustainably managed (refurbished/ recycled)
  • €3,7 million social contribution resulting in 8,2 million beneficiaries
  • 41% of employees are women
  • 124,516 training hours
  • 1st company in Greece recognized as one of “world’s most ethical companies”
  • 1,480 integrity checks of suppliers, consultants and partners
  • OTE in the bloomberg gender equality index for the 4th consecutive year


How open is the country’s telecommunications sector to foreign investment and partnership, and going forward, what sort of opportunity areas exist for collaboration and investment with US and other foreign partners?

OTE is a great example of foreign investment in telcos in Greece. Telekom Group stays focused on its investment in OTE and in Greece, and keeps investing in infrastructure, new services, and new technologies.

In fact, all current telco providers in Greece are foreign investments. We welcome investors from the US and other countries. Greece has re-established its attractiveness as an investment destination. There are great examples of technology companies who operate in Greece and highly skilled personnel who can support their projects. It is crucial to continue to attract investors in Greece and in infrastructure, as we have been doing in recent years.

In 2022 Telekom Group again confirmed its confidence in Greece and its development prospects by investing in the creation of an Information Technology and Software center (Telekom IT hub) in the country’s second largest city, Thessaloniki. IT Experts have been transferred from abroad and more than 200 additional IT professionals have been hired. The center is covering Telekom’s IT needs in Germany, providing IT and software services.

Furthermore, companies like Amazon, Google and Microsoft are strengthening their presence in Greece by investing in data centers, making the country a hub of innovation.


As departing CEO of OTE, what are some of the major lessons learnt, and the legacy you would like to leave behind?

No one can succeed alone. Behind OTE Group’s transformation and its leading position in the market today is the great work of our people and the support of our shareholders.

Despite all adversities and setbacks, OTE’s management team stands together as one. With passion, faith, and commitment to our strategy, we pursue our vision and manage to inspire our people. It is also the hard work of all our employees; their alignment behind our strategy and their dedication that enable us to deliver upon our promises.

However, we would not be able to achieve any of that without our shareholders. They have always been there, through thick and thin. I cannot stress enough the importance of their support and guidance throughout the years. Together we have managed to position OTE in the Greek market in a way that enables it to respond successfully to any challenges.

On a personal note, I consider myself privileged to have had the opportunity of leading the great management team and employees of Greece’s largest technology company and having the continuous support and trust of our shareholders.