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Jul 13 2012

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Snapshot: 2012 update on the state of telecoms in the Caribbean

An update of our 2011 examination of fixed-line, mobile/cellular and fixed-broadband take-up across select Caribbean countries.

In July 2011, we published our inaugural Snapshot: State of telecoms in the Caribbean region, which presented and examined data published by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) for fixed-line, mobile and fixed broadband subscription in some of its member countries. With the release of the 2011 statistics, we are able to update our Snapshot, which again focuses on select countries in the English-speaking Caribbean, and now allow for comparisons to be made.

We again emphasise that although the ITU has established clear definitions for all of the indicators it collects, the member countries supply the data to the organisation. Hence it is not clear the extent to which the ITU attempted to corroborate or validate the information provided, and neither are any explanations given for anomalies that might be evident.

Mobile/cellular market

Since our 2011 review, there has been a slight decline in the take-up of mobile/cellular service across the Caribbean. On average, the region experienced a 4% decrease in the number of mobile/cellular subscriptions per 100 inhabitants, from 130.04 to 124.63. This rate of decline is consistent with 2011 mobile/cellular teledensity figures for individual countries, which generally recorded between a 1% to 6% drop from 2010 levels.

This decrease could be attributed to a number of situations in the individual countries, and the general state of the sector collectively. For example,

  • the general maturing of the local mobile/cellular market, along with a weakening of the intensity of competition that had been experienced initially
  • loss of mobile/cellular operators in market, e.g. Claro in Jamaica due to mergers and acquisitions
  • the continuing poor economic conditions across the region, which may be resulting in persons no longer being able to afford to maintain all of their their subscriptions.

Figure 1: Mobile/cellular penetration in select Caribbean countries as at 2011 (Source: ITU, ECTEL, UN)

As reflected in Figure 1, the majority of countries in the sample group, 11 out of 13, have mobile/cellular subscriptions densities over 100%, the highest being reported in the Cayman Islands (168%), then Antigua and Barbuda (182%) and Anguilla (166%). Only two countries have mobile/cellular subscriptions densities of less than 100% – Belize, at approximately 64 subscriptions per 100 inhabitants and Guyana at around 69 subscriptions per 100 inhabitants.

Although a high mobile/cellular subscription density speaks to the availability and take-up of service, it is again highlighted that figures over 100% or 100 subscriptions per 100 inhabitants does indicate that there are more phones that citizens. This situation could be attributed to factors, such as: a wide cross section of persons subscribing to two or more different networks, which frequently occurs when calling rates between networks are significantly higher than on-network calling rates; and the absence of mobile number portability. Hence figures over 100% tend to suggest deficiencies in the market, including challenges in the competition and regulation dynamic.

Fixed-broadband market

It is first highlighted that the assessment that is being reported is limited to fixed-broadband service, which is in the region is generally delivered over copper and fibre optic and/or coaxial cables. In most countries, wireless broadband, e.g. using Wi-Fi and WiMax technologies, would increase availability and reach of that service considerably. Mobile/cellular customers, in particular, frequently use Wi-Fi to secure Internet access over their devices, which again would increase the total Internet access numbers among the populace.

Having said this, fixed-broadband subscriptions have increased marginally, by 4% on average, across the region over the last two years, to 13.33 subscriptions per 100 of the population (or 13%). Figure 2 shows the most recent fixed broadband penetration figures for individual countries. The highest penetrations were reported in the Cayman Islands (33%), then Anguilla (25%) and St. Kitts and Nevis (24%), whilst the lowest were in Guyana (3%), Belize (3%) and Jamaica (4%).

Figure 2: Fixed broadband subscription densities in select Caribbean countries as at 2011 (Source: ITU, ECTEL, UN)

For approximately 60% of the sample group, the subscription density increased from 2010 levels. However, for three out of the 13 countries assessed, their density numbers decreased from the previous year – Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas and Jamaica. Possible reasons for this decline could be persons switching from fixed to wireless options, or the rate take-up of fixed-broadband is less than the rate at which a country’s population is increasing.

Fixed-line market

Without a doubt, the introduction of low-cost mobile/cellular service across the Caribbean over the last 10 or so years has transformed drastically telecoms and the economies of the individual countries. However, at the same time, it shifted focus away from the fixed-line network, which in many countries deteriorated considerably. More importantly, the near ubiquitous availability mobile/cellular at competitive rates caused a number of persons who had had fixed-line service to abandon that service and rely on the former almost exclusively.

Across the Caribbean, fixed-line subscription densities have not been changing drastically in recent years, and the average for the 2011 sample group (see Figure 3), was virtually identical to that calculated for the previous year.

Figure 3: Fixed-line penetration in select Caribbean countries as at 2011 (Source: ITU, ECTEL, UN)

For 2011, the greatest increase in fixed-line teledensity was recorded in the Bahamas at 38%, which reflected approximately 11 subscriptions per 100 inhabitants being added to 2010 subscription levels. However, the highest teledensities were recorded in the Cayman Islands (66%), the Anguilla (40%) and Antigua and Barbuda (40%).

On the other hand, the greatest decrease was recorded in Saint Lucia, where a drop of approximately 4 subscribers per 100 of the population from 2010 levels was recorded. Although this decline might be due to fixed-mobile substitution, as outlined above, it may also be caused by lower rates of fixed-line take-up relative to the rate of increase of the population.

Conclusions

Generally, the Caribbean appears to be showing signs of slowing down in the fixed-line, mobile/cellular and fixed broadband markets. Collectively, across the mobile/cellular market, teledensity had decreased, granted with levels being well over 100 subscriptions per 100 of the population in most countries, it does not necessarily reflect favourably on quality of competition in their individual markets. Additionally, the region as a whole did not experience a substantial change in either fixed-line and fixed broadband subscription densities that could signal telecoms-driven economic growth.

It is also instructive to note that although rates for telecoms services in the region may be competitive with those in developed countries, the lower fixed-broadband subscription densities, do suggest less inclusion of our citizens in our burgeoning Digital Societies. Our mobile/cellular teledensities do suggest that the majority of our populations have access to some form of telecoms – specifically voice communications. However, the future of our societies is online, and to the extent that the Caribbean can harness the Internet, the better it would be for individual countries and the region as a whole.

 

Image credit: Camera Lens / Sura Nualpradid (FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

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About the author

Michele Marius

Michele Marius has a wealth of experience in the telecoms and ICT space, which has been gained in the Caribbean, Southeast Asia and the South Pacific, and in the public and private sectors. She is the Editor and Publisher of ICT Pulse.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.ict-pulse.com/2012/07/snapshot-2012-update-on-the-state-of-telecoms-in-the-caribbean/