Trinidad and Tobago's 4G coverage is set for rapid expansion

The existing mobile operators in Trinidad and Tobago – market leader Digicel and the government majority-owned Telecommunications Services of T&T (TSTT, through its brand Bmobile) – have been rolling out 4G long-term evolution (LTE) network technology since 2012. The new infrastructure will provide increased speed and improved quality of service in broadband internet access.

In addition, the regulator, the Telecommunications Authority of T&T (TATT) has offered more spectrum and a third licence. Ronald Walcott, the CEO of TSTT, told OBG, “Due to its lower cost, we foresee the roll-out of 4G LTE to all areas of the country, making broadband more affordable.”

Broadband Data

TATT’s offer of additional spectrum in 2014 was designed to meet rising demand. Cris Seecheran, the agency’s CEO, said that the request for proposals was “about bringing fast, secure and robust data services that improve the customer data experience at affordable rates”. TATT said it was looking to award licences for 700-MHz spectrum to “incumbent mobile operator(s) and potential third mobile operators” and for available 850-MHz and 1900-MHz spectrum to a third operator.

The request was designed to meet rising demand, extend availability and competition, and attract 4G technology. Seecheran said that “new technologies using the 700-MHz spectrum will open the door for greatly enhanced mobile broadband speeds and enhanced services to the public.”

Existing operators have introduced HSPA+, and this jump to a 4G network has paved the way for the provision of services at broadband mobile internet access speeds, a significant step up from 2.5G technology (EDGE). Since 2012 operators in T&T have been using both HSPA+ and EDGE. Seecheran stressed the efficiency benefits 4G could bring to companies operating in the country, citing factors such as increased sales, better customer service, improved productivity and direct cost reductions.

In the UK, HSPA+ is considered to be 3G, but the International Telecommunications Union counts HSPA+ as 4G. Digicel’s HSPA+ upgrade was first launched in 2012: the company said it would offer an average mobile data speed of 2 Mbps, with a theoretical maximum download rate of 21 Mbps.

In February 2015 TSTT’s Blink/Bmobile service announced that it was successfully expanding its 4G LTE technology to supplement its existing DSL service and replace its WiMAX network. Reza Hosein, programme head of the company’s LTE network expansion, said that the new network was four to five times faster, and was reaching 70 previously underserved areas, taking coverage of T&T to 85%. The company has said its aim is to reach 95% 4G coverage. The 4G LTE service makes it possible to offer internet access to customers in areas not served by copper or fibre cable, via a plug and play wireless modem, which offered speeds of up to 5 Mbps.

Toward Universal Access

4G coverage could help make internet access ubiquitous. With fixed internet penetration running at 58% of households, it falls to mobile providers to close the web connectivity gap. Much depends on how the different categories of subscribers overlap. TSTT has some 800,000 subscribers, of whom half have smartphones able to receive data at 4G speeds.

With Digicel’s internet-connected smartphone data customers adding up to a similar or slightly higher number – it is estimated to have around 1m subscribers – it is clear that T&T is approaching the theoretical possibility of universal internet access. “This means the government is happy, as it wants the country connected, and the operators are happy because it helps revenue growth,” Kwesi Prescod, of consultancy Prescod Associates, told OBG.

Consumer Behaviours

For the operators, the question is how best to take advantage of improved mobile internet access via 4G. TSTT’s management posits that T&T is moving along a path of becoming fully connected via social media and financial services, as in the rest of the world. The company is itself working on launching a mobile financial ecosystem, according to the management, whereby it aims to revolutionise the way prepaid customers access financial services and fundamentally change how customers do business in the future. Credit card penetration is still relatively low in T&T, representing an opportunity for operators in this market.

TSTT is also looking at entertainment. According to reports in early 2015 the company, through its Blink Entertainment brand, was considering introducing “TV Anywhere”, which would use adaptive bitrate streaming (ABS) to deliver video and film to any device with an internet connection.

ABS optimises the bitrate to fit the user’s device, minimising buffering. TSTT said the proposed service recognised that younger consumers were drastically changing the way they received television and video content, and that the company needed to offer them new mobile viewing options.

Investing in Content

Digicel – which has looked at mobile banking, and might be making financial applications a key part of its strategy in some regional markets such as Haiti – is following a different strategy for T&T. The company is instead focusing on fixed line, cable TV and content across all platforms.

The acquisition in September 2014 of the sports regional broadcaster SportsMax, and the launch of news and information mobile app Loop, seem to be consistent with Digicel’s strategy to become a media outfit and to have regionalised content.

Opportunities

Digicel has applied for a licence to provide pay-TV in T&T, and has shown an interest in developing a range of internet and ICT applications in order to take advantage of 4G speeds in the country. One new product, launched in T&T in January 2015, is called Digicel Space, a cloud storage facility for customers to back up and share information such as photos and documents.

As with its competitor, Digicel is likewise looking at ways of optimising the live streaming services it provides to handheld mobile devices, recently announcing the adoption of UltraBand, a caching technology. Digicel Jamaica’s former CEO, Barry O’Brien, said in April 2014 that on T&T’s neighbouring island of Jamaica, Digicel earns some 10% of its revenues from ICT services, and wants to raise that figure to 25% during 2015. “Core revenues are under pressure from voice over internet protocol and downward pricing pressure. We have to reinvent ourselves constantly,” he told the local press.

It is evident that Digicel’s strategy in T&T will be informed by its experience in Jamaica, and vice versa. “We have nearly 1m active users using data on their mobiles in Jamaica,” Barry O’Brien said, “and saw a more than 150% rise in the number of subscribers on our 4G network using data in the last fiscal year.”

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The Report: Trinidad & Tobago 2015

Telecoms & IT chapter from The Report: Trinidad & Tobago 2015

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