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Digicel invests $6b in LTE network, touts tenfold increase in data speed

Published:Friday | June 10, 2016 | 6:00 AMSteven Jackson
CEO of Digicel Jamaica David Butler demonstrates the LTE service yesterday, a day ahead of its roll out to customers in Kingston and Montego Bay.

Digicel customers in Kingston and parts of Montego Bay will start experiencing, today, LTE data speeds up to tenfold faster than the telecom's existing 4G network.

Eventually, the faster network is to be rolled out nationally.

It follows a $6-billion investment by Digicel ahead of imminent competition. The local telecoms, run by CEO David Butler and owned by Irish billionaire Denis O'Brien, showed reporters and bloggers on Thursday download speed tests hitting 60 megabits per second (mbps) compared to the existing 10-13 mbps on its existing 4G network. That's a fivefold increase, but the company said the network can deliver up to 100 mpbs, or ten times its current performance.

Digicel Jamaica will outline new prepaid and postpaid data plans today, Friday, to entice customers to take up the service.

Butler expects the most popular service to cost customers $900 for one gigabyte worth of data over seven days.

The LTE service will spread to other towns in the coming months, but the company gave no timeline for nationwide coverage. The existing 4G network will remain for other customers outside the nation's two cities. Digicel continues to see heavy demand for fast mobile broadband Internet service with 1.3 million of its two million customers on smartphones.

Data services are the fastest growth market for telecoms as traditional voice growth wanes.

Caricel, the newest player in the local mobile telecommunications sector owned by local holding company Symbiote Investments Limited, aims to offer fast data speeds as a means of wooing customers from FLOW and Digicel.

Butler said Digicel's planned roll-out of its LTE service was independent of Caricel's announcement. He also signalled that Digicel expects the new entrant to play catch-up as it will take time to build out a network.

"Rolling out a LTE network is something that happens over a period of time. To them, the best of luck, but our focus is on our two million customers," he said at Thursday's demonstration.

Butler indicated that Digicel's build-out of its LTE platform has been around two years in the making, starting with the acquisition of a special spectrum band in 2014 and then the subsequent investment in technology.

The Digicel LTE network is operating on the 700 MHz band - "globally recognised" as an ideal spectrum for deploying the technology.

"We're focused on always delivering the most advanced mobile network technology that fits our customers' lifestyle and budget. The activation of our LTE network is a major step in this direction," declared Butler.

LTE, or Long Term Evolution, is the latest in mobile technology, capable of delivering more mobile data at the fastest speeds to connect the growing range of Internet-enabled devices, while running faster than some fixed broadband connections. This means less buffering while watching videos in high definition and glitch-free live streaming on the go.

The US$50 million ($6 billion) that Digicel is pumping into LTE for deployment nationwide adds to the overall investment of US$1 billion in the Jamaican market since it launched in 2001.

"It's a significant milestone for Jamaica. We've invested in innovation that can empower consumers and businesses to reach a new potential as they explore, discover and unleash fresh possibilities online with LTE," said Butler.

steven.jackson@gleanerjm.com