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Communication competition warming up


Hallam Hope

Communication competition warming up

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IT?SHOULD?BE a wake-up call for companies in the communication business. Digicel has made it clear that it intends to become the leading company for telecommunication services and products in the Caribbean.
For companies offering telephony services, mobile, PBX and Internet-based options, the announcement to a packed Hilton Barbados room of communication and business executives a week ago cannot be taken lightly.
After a series of presentations followed by a torrent of interviews with Digicel’s chief executive officer Barry O’Brien, there was a buzz in the room.
The message from O’Brien was: “Digicel intends to become the number one telecommunications company in the Caribbean.”
Although no time frame was given, Digicel says it has become the leading mobile provider for the region so it’s time to move on to new horizons.
The appearance of the Irish company in the Caribbean some six years ago put it in direct confrontation with Cable & Wireless, now branded LIME, which had enjoyed a cosy monopoly in the region for decades with monopoly rates which governments frowned on but seemed helpless to do anything about, and a customer service that required a NISE initiative.
LIME responded to the new entrant  with cuts in staff to reduce its costs and an aggressive policy of competing in the mobile arena while being prepared, or forced, to cut rates and offer competitive deals.
But across the region there was a Digicel rollercoaster in motion and today the penetration rate for cellphones is more than 100 per cent in some countries, with just about every citizen, regardless of income or social background, owning a cellphone.
But Digicel has not rested on its mobile achievements and has ventured into new communication areas, offering today dedicated broadband wireless service to corporate customers that it says is guaranteed because of a maximum allowed ratio of ten or fewer to one.
It reports that ADSL technology in use by LIME has a ratio of 50 to one or more, hence the quality of service is far better.   
Another company in the broadband communications space is TeleBarbados, which has also earned a solid record for its mix of fibre and wireless service, reliable service and world-class customer service.
Digicel’s main dish at the Hilton was its announcement of majority control of Netxar, a New Hampshire, United States-based company which provides consultancy services in the Caribbean in Fixed Line and other areas. Its sales vice-president, Greg Skinner, told BARBADOS?BUSINESS?AUTHORITY that there would be increased competition in the market as a direct result of the deal with Digicel. And he contended that this competition would bring benefits to consumers and corporate Barbados.
Netxar plans to have a third regional office formally set up in Barbados by the end of March this year but already has local customers and a local presence.
Digicel has expanded the range of technology solutions in the Caribbean with 4G and residential broadband in Jamaica, mobile banking in Haiti, WIFI services in Antigua and Barbuda, data hosting in the Cayman Islands, 3G and mobile broadband in Bermuda, the French and Dutch-speaking territories and, says O’Brien, “continues to develop and launch new technologies”.
In Barbados it is further developing a WIMAX network to better serve its customers as it aims to broaden its dedicated broadband service. O’Brien says the mobile banking venture in Haiti has become a huge business. So I ask myself: would such a service be lucrative in Barbados and prove a boon for local entrepreneurs?
Mobile banking has been a huge success in Kenya and other African countries where poor telecommunications landline  networks are in place. M-Pesa in Kenya reports in the latest edition of Capacity Magazine that it currently has 1.3 million customers in Kenya from a 2007 start-up.
It will, however, not be smooth sailing for Digicel since its competitors have market share in some areas it will be venturing into.
They have recognized the importance of quality customer service even before the official liberalization of the telecommunications market in 2005 and, like Digicel, have strong international partners and can certainly be expected to re-look their strategies.

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