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Digicel rolling out 3G+ networks

Published:Wednesday | May 25, 2011 | 12:00 AM
The RKA building in New Kingston, corporate headquarters of Digicel Group and Digicel Jamaica. - File

  • Says LTE upgrades next

Mark Titus, Business Reporter

Digicel Group went after rival Claro Jamaica as an acquisition target because of its 3G network, but plans to move almost immediately to upgrade the mobile platform to 3G+ in line with planned projects for other Caribbean markets, the Irish company said.

Digicel's mobile service is currently deployed in Jamaica on a 2G platform with EDGE, while broadband Internet is available on a 4G network.

"Claro has a 3G network that we intend to upgrade and significantly increase the coverage, thus providing all Digicel mobile users with an even better and enhanced service," Antonia Graham, head of Digicel Group Public Relations, told Wednesday Business by email Monday.

"This network will be future proofed for LTE and will complement our Digicel broadband service."

Graham said the 3G+ network was based on HSPDA+ technology, and would be "five times faster than traditional 3G technologies".

The disclosure follows LIME's announcement that its Pan-Caribbean markets, absent Jamaica and Bahamas, are to be upgraded over an 18-month span from 2G to 4G platforms at a cost of US$80 million.

LIME Jamaica has 3G service but coverage is not universal.

LIME Caribbean, like Digicel, intends to convert all its markets to LTE.

Digicel Group has already upgraded its network in Bermuda and the French West Indies from 2G to 3G+, and is currently doing the same in the Dutch Caribbean. Similar work will be done in Haiti, the ABC islands - Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao - and Barbados.

"Ultimately, we see all our markets converging into LTE and any investments we are making now in technology have this objective in mind," Graham said.

Digicel is not saying, however, how much it has budgeted for the upgrades in Jamaica or elsewhere.

The Denis O'Brien-owned company has already rolled out WiMAX broadband technology - which received fourth-generation technology designation, along with LTE, from the International Telecommunication Union in December - in its Jamaican and Grand Cayman markets.

The Jamaican roll-out of 4G cost J$2 billion.

In March, Digicel Group announced a swap deal with América Móvil to acquire its Claro business in Jamaica, in exchange for its operations in El Salvador and Honduras. Digicel will also receive a cash payment.

The transaction, which is subject to regulatory approvals, has evoked fear of a return to a monopolised local market.

Telecoms experts say regulators cannot stop the deal, but that the minister responsible for telecommunications may be able to add riders to the Claro licence - which Digicel will inherit with the acquisition - to soften Digicel's dominance.

Daryl Vaz, the minister with responsibility for information, and who will have the final say on the matter, has sought the guidance of the Office of Utilities Regulation and the Fair Trading Commission on the proposed merger and what conditionalities he can put on the deal.

The acquisition is to be finalised by June, but already, well-placed sources tell Wednesday Business, Claro has put its LTE upgrade project on hold, and cancelled the switching base in Duncans, Trelawny, suggesting that the parties have finalised their agreement.

The installation of rooftop antennae continues, however, and Digicel is likely to retain Claro's technical team, our source said.