Telecom reforms would bring prices down says Digicel boss

By Scott Neil

Proposed Government reforms of Bermuda’s telecoms market are welcome by Digicel’s new top man in Bermuda David Hunter. And he is pleased by Cable & Wireless’ recent decision to step away from a proposed take-over of KeyTech Limited, owner of the Bermuda Telephone Company and Logic Communications.

“We’re happy that Cable & Wireless has backed away from KeyTech and moved away from a potential monopoly situation. We’re looking forward to the new regulations where all the operators will be able to buy international access at wholesale, whereas at the moment we just pass on the traffic for Cable & Wireless and TBI,” said Mr. Hunter, Digicel’s general manager.

The Island’s telecommunications set-up is on track for a major realignment with plans to end the current four separate licence categories that are increasingly restricting the various operators from introducing new products and services that cross over the Bermuda-imposed licence boundaries.

“We are behind the Government (reforms) 100 percent,” said Mr. Hunter, qualifying that by stating there will be a need for Government to manage an opened-up marketplace to prevent a single global player arriving on the scene and creating a monopoly.

But that said, he added: “There are big enough companies already here. We, for instance, are a big company in the Caribbean, Central and South America and the Pacific area. We see ourselves as one of the global players.”

Mr. Hunter can see a reformed telecoms market locally providing more competitive pricing for consumers as the artificial barriers to investment and expansion are done away with.

“Pricing will come down. We would be buying our own international traffic capacity directly and would be able to offer savings to customers. At the moment there is essentially no competition for that traffic because we can’t compete in that market.”

In the battle for supremacy in Bermuda’s cell phone market Digicel is claiming it is top when it comes to number of customer subscribers.

Figures show a remarkable increase in the numbers of customers on the company’s books since it acquired Cingular Wireless operations in Bermuda and the rest of the Caribbean in the later part of 2005.

“We have taken a more aggressive approach. We like to think that we are number one in Bermuda now because of that growth and that we have pipped CellularOne to that post,” said Mr. Hunter.

Taking over the former Cingular network was not without its challenges, such as glitches with the billing system.

In recent months there have also been queues at the Digicel shop as customers have been called in to have the Cingular network SIM card in their cell phone replaced with a Digicel SIM card.

When Digicel took over the Cingular Wireless network it made an agreement that would allow customers to access Cingular’s roaming network around the world for a five-year period. The company has decided to arrange a switch over of its customers much sooner, hence the mass SIM card switchover.

“We’ve had 12- or 1300 customers who have switched and there are about another 800 to go,” explained Mr. Hunter. There have been instances of Digicel customers losing roaming connection on the Cingular network, something that Digicel had no control over and so it decided to make the switch away sooner rather than later.

“It was all about supporting our subscribers. It’s always hard to rely on a partner company when a network goes down.

“We have the number one roaming connection in Bermuda and in the UK we have an agreement to use (the world’s second largest mobile telecom group) Vodaphone’s roaming network,” said Mr. Hunter.

He is encouraging customers who have not yet switched their SIM card to do so and be assured a better roaming service.

By a matter of days Digicel was beaten to announcing a new push-to-talk cell phone service in Bermuda, but its walkie-talkie technology that combines with a normal cell phone should be on sale to customers within the new few weeks.

And the company is introducing other new products. In the past month it brought to the Island the updated and far sleeker Blackberry Pearl, which has a built in three mega-pixel camera, and Digicel works closely with Blackberry to offer services and support to corporate customers.

“We have the largest corporate base (of customers) on the Island and so many use Blackberrys. We have employed someone from Blackberry as a business solutions manager and we have also brought in Blackberry to do staff training, we are the only ones doing that in Bermuda. We are giving complete business support,” said Mr. Hunter.

A soon-to-be launched system of pre-paid credit distribution, that as an example would allow parents to place calling credits on their children’s cell phone, is next on the cards from Digicel.

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