-10 per cent increase in coverage expected by year-end
TELECOMMUNICATIONS giant, Digicel, is on a path to spend US$22.6 million ($4.5 billion) to upgrade and expand its 4G LTE network, with an aim to increase its current coverage from 86 to 96 per cent of the population before the end of the year.
The company is currently completing work on its services at Eterinbang, Region Seven (Cuyuni-Mazaruni), which had developed issues due to the company’s solar power system. Major upgrades are on the cards for Regions One (Barima-Waini), Eight (Potaro-Siparuni) and Nine (Upper Takutu-Upper Essequibo).
Most of these regional upgrades are expected to be completed by April, Digicel’s Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Gregory Dean, said during a sit down with several members of the media on Tuesday.
Dean emphasised that the new investment will drive economic opportunities for Guyanese not only in Georgetown, but those in several remote areas where the company is particularly keen on working.
“We want to ensure that if you are on our network you are able to get the LTE service and have the speed and quality of service throughout the network and not just in Georgetown alone. That regardless of where you are, whether you are on the coast or in the remote areas you should have the same quality of service; that is one of our key objectives,” Dean related.
According to the company, to date it has invested well over US$175 million ($36.5 billion) in Guyana.
The company has already spent $4 billion of the $4.5 billion set aside for the LTE expansion works. The remaining sum is now being spent to ensure the company meets the target of 96 per cent LTE coverage this year.
Some communities that the company will be targeting for specific upgrades include Mabaruma, Port Kaituma and Bartica.
“Many other communities will benefit but I just want to mention those three because those are three communities where based on our analysis they are most in need of upgrades. So we’re aiming to have those completed by April and we are working as much as possible to even have that [deadline] pulled forward,” Dean noted.
“We are also doing an upgrade in Berbice, but we are pretty much 95 per cent completed. The last part is just to cross the Berbice River,” he added.
These upgrades come notwithstanding the company having suffered losses of 10-15 per cent in services in 2021 due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“In keeping with most companies, we did have challenges in terms of COVID-19. COVID-19 did see reduce usage of the network by customers. Traffic was 10 – 15 per cent down from what we would see normally,” Dean explained to members of the media.
Dean said that notwithstanding the situational circumstances, the company weathered the storm and did not stop investing or pushing forward.
With the COVID-19 beginning to ease and the world gradually returning to normalcy, the company is focusing on its future developments, including the completion of its subsea fibre cable, and the roll out of fixed services.
“We have been able to weather the storm and we have to make some sacrifices both locally and globally from a Digicel point of view. We had some delays in terms of shipping time or getting teams on the ground to do some of the upgrades but I think we are happy with where we are in terms of what our plans are. When we achieve our plans later this year in terms of having the 96 per cent LTE coverage, we will be quite happy with that,” Dean said.
Founded and launched in Jamaica in 2001, Digicel has expanded rapidly and now spans across 31 markets in the Caribbean, Central America and Asia-Pacific. Digicel opened its operations in Guyana in 2007.
The upgrades in Guyana comes on the heels of the company’s successful relaunch across the globe as a “Digital Operator” offering digital engagement via its suite of eight apps and prime bundles.
Commenting on the company’s commitment to building Guyana as a digital hub, Dean noted that the company is proud that the company has lived up to its commitment of providing services to a wide cross section of the country, so much so that to date it currently has a total of 98 per cent population coverage.
“We’ve had challenges over the years in terms of achieving that. We’ve had to come up with a lot of innovative solutions and I think it’s testament to our technical team both here and in the group in terms of working with us to find those solutions so we can provide quality services in those areas,” he noted.
As it pertains to looking towards the future and an eventual upgrade to the 5G network, Dean noted that while that will be the company’s ultimate goal, it has no timeline for the facility. As such an upgrade would be highly driven by customer demand and the ability to utilise the service.
“The reality is a lot of Guyanese don’t have the 5G devices. We know we have to go into 5G but the time period between now and when most customers have the 5G devices it’s a difficult one to predict but we know in the future we have to go to 5G and I think we are working on a road map as to how we get there. I wouldn’t say that we have an exact timeline. Today our main focus is to get LTE out there throughout the country,” he said.