Thursday, May 22, 2014

The impact of the liberalisation of the telecommunications sector on the Jamaican economy, culture and communications

Digicel is a privately held firm owned by Denis O‟Brien a Boston College educated, Irishman. Forbes magazine in 2010 estimated his net worth at US$4.2B placing him 254 on the Forbes rich list. In April 2001, when Digicel launched its GSM mobile service in Jamaica, the company anticipated reaching the 100,000 customer plateau by the end of its first year in operation. Instead, it hit the 100,000 mark a mere 100 days after launch. Never before in the country's history of mobile telecommunications had such tremendous growth been seen in a network, as Digicel broke record after record on its way to surpassing its major competitor as the mobile provider with the largest customer base in the island.

Digicel raised the bar where an acceptable level of network coverage was concerned. Jamaicans living in rural parishes finally had a genuine option for mobile communications. With an island-wide network of over 1,000 cellular towers spread across all 14 parishes, Digicel firmly established itself as the mobile provider with the premier network coverage across the country. The company's approach of affordable phones, a user-friendly approach and mass marketing earned Digicel a leading place in the market that it astutely defended. From its inception to this very day Digicel has helped mold and shape Jamaica in a wide variety of ways, their arrival in the island was truly a catalyst that set the telecommunications sector in motion.

Liberalisation of the telecommunications market commenced with the granting of two new carrier licences for the provision of domestic mobile voice, data, and information services. Each mobile entrant used a different technology for its mobile network. Mossel (which operates under the trade name Digicel) commenced service in April 2001 using Global System of Mobile (GSM) Communications; later that year Oceanic Digital Jamaica (now Claro) commenced operation deploying Code Division Multi Access (CDMA); while C&WJ, who had been offering mobile services in Jamaica since 1991, employed Time Division Multi Access (TDMA). CWJ subsequently switched from TDMA to GSM, similar to Digicel except that they operate on different frequencies. Competition in the provider market is always beneficial to the customer so as to ensure maximum value for their money.

Flow offers what it calls its Triple Play services to residential consumers: digital cable TV, digital landline and broadband internet access. Flow has the highest capacity broadband network in the country with 320 Gbps capability with excess capacity of approximately 75%. Since the entry of Flow in 2005 the cost of ADSL and other broadband services have fallen in excess of 60%. This has impacted our culture as well being able to bring Jamaicans that much closer to a first world technological experience even though we are considered a third world country. Allowing information of all shapes and sizes to be readily accessible by the masses; this has help speed up the cultural imperialization of our country to better match the ideals and values of the world of large. 
Digicel has made a large impact on Jamaica economically through bout their corporate actions and through the Digicel Foundation's exemplary charity work. Most recently though the building of a US$65M headquarters in downtown Kingston, an area that has been blighted by urban flight. The headquarters is expected to house 1,000 employees and politicians and real estate agents are expecting that this will be a catalyst for growth and renewal in the downtown business district. This is poised to bring in a lot of new businesses and interest in the area. We can see this already with the introduction of a Domino's pizza store and increased pedestrian traffic down by the waterfront properties.

In response to Digicel entering the telecommunications market; C&WJ in 2008, embarked on a new high risk transformation strategy which included corporate re-branding and changing its name from C&WJ to LIME. Since the emergence of Digicel LIME has essentially been playing a constant game of catch up trying to hold on to what little of the market-share they still have. This has led to a fair amount of promotions and network improvements beneficial to the customers such as their 3G network upgrade and launching the Caribbean's first mobile television service. This show of technological improvement pushed Digicel to one up LIME by implementing 4G technology and upgrading their own network to better facilitate their customers growing mobile needs. Most recently LIME launched a $2.99 campaign on call rates to which Digicel countered with a flurry of call plans to give the customer the best available call rate to suit their needs. In our currently declining economy value for money is a major concern for customers no matter what company you side with.

With all that being said it seems like Digicel was one of if not the biggest catalyst for technological change in the recent history of Jamaica. This is seen from the direct impact they have made on the telecommunications industry as well as indirectly pushing the competition to step their game up and not just rest on their laurels. This primarily helps Jamaica as a whole to step forward into the technological information age and become self aware that just as they take notice of other countries they are being watched as well. As stated previously the impact can be seen in a variety of ways but more so on Jamaica's economy, culture and communications advancement.

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