Snapshot: 2014 update on the state of telecoms in the Caribbean
An update of fixed-line, mobile/cellular and fixed-broadband Internet take up across select Caribbean countries, as of 2013.
This year, 2014, marks our fourth review of telecoms services take up across the Caribbean, in terms of subscriptions density. Table 1 lists the countries that were included in the exercise, which we have increased from 17 to 22, since our 2013 iteration.
The results presented were drawn from data published by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU). However, we stress that although the ITU has established clear definitions for all of the indicators it collects, the countries are charged with supplying the data to the organisation. Hence it is not clear the extent to which the ITU corroborates or validates the data it publishes, and neither have any explanations been given for anomalies that might be evident.
The per capita Gross Domestic Product (GDP), purchasing power parity (PPP), was drawn from a number of resources, including the World Bank and CIA World Factbook. The latter was especially useful for countries that are colonies (or dependencies) of other countries, such as Anguilla, Aruba, the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands, Montserrat and the Turks and Caicos Islands.
Two things to note: (i) countries such as Curaçao and Sint Maarten have not been included because the ITU did not publish data for those countries; and (ii) the data sets for Haiti and the Turk and Caicos Islands were incomplete, hence they were not be included in all of the services discussed.
Results: Region-wide trends
Figure 1 shows subscription penetration rates for fixed-line, mobile/cellular and fixed broadband Internet services averaged across the Caribbean (22 countries) over the past seven years. It can be readily observed that the subscription levels for mobile/cellular service far outstrips that for the other two services featured. As at 2013, subscription densities for fixed-line voice and fixed Internet broadband were approximately a quarter and one-eighth that of mobile/cellular service, respectively.
Interestingly, over the seven-year period under review, both the mobile/cellular and fixed-line voice services experienced a steady but slight decline in take up, whilst fixed broadband Internet has been increasing. As at the end of 2013, the averaged subscription densities across the region were:
- for fixed-line, approximately, 27 subscription lines per 100 inhabitants
- for mobile/cellular, approximately, 113 subscription per 100 inhabitants
- for fixed Internet broadband, approximately, 14 subscription lines per 100 inhabitants
Results: Fixed-line telephony market
Across the Caribbean, there is a wide disparity in fixed-line telephone subscriptions and subscription densities across the 22 countries examined. As shown in Figure 2, the highest subscriber densities were reported in the Cayman Islands, at approximately 65 subscriptions per 100 inhabitants; followed by Montserrat, with around 59 subscriptions per 100 inhabitants, and 52 subscriptions per 100 inhabitants in Barbados. On the other hand, the lowest fixed-line telephony subscriber density was reported in Haiti, at approximately 4 subscriptions per 1000 inhabitants (not per 100); Belize, at about 7 subscriptions per 100 inhabitants; and Jamaica, at around 9 subscriptions per 100 inhabitants.
Results: Fixed broadband Internet market
In the 20 countries examined across the region, and in the fixed broadband Internet market, the Cayman Islands has the highest subscription density, at approximately 35 subscriptions per 100 inhabitants, as shown in Figure 3. The next highest subscription densities were reported in Anguilla, at around 30 subscriptions per 100 inhabitants; and Saint Kitts and Nevis, at about 25 subscriptions per 100 inhabitants.
On the flipside, the lowest fixed broadband Internet subscription density was reported in Cuba, with 5 subscriptions per 10,000 inhabitants (not per 100 inhabitants!). Cuba was followed by Belize and then the Bahamas with approximately 3 and 4 subscriptions per 100 inhabitants, respectively. (It should be noted that no figures for this service segment had been recorded for Haiti and the Turks and Caicos Islands.)
Results: Mobile/cellular market
Figure 4 shows mobile/cellular subscription density in 21 Caribbean countries (Turks and Caicos Islands was not included, as no figures were published). Fourteen of the 16 countries had mobile/cellular subscriptions densities over 100 subscriptions per 100 inhabitants. The highest subscription levels were found in the British Virgin Islands, at approximately 188 subscriptions per 100 inhabitants. Following the British Virgin Islands were Anguilla, at 181 subscriptions per 100 inhabitants, and the Cayman Islands at about 168 subscriptions per 100 inhabitants.
On the other hand, the lowest mobile/cellular subscriptions densities were recorded in Cuba, at approximately 18 subscriptions per 100 inhabitants. Belize has the second lowest of the group, with 53 subscriptions per 100 inhabitants, and was followed by Haiti and Guyana, both having approximately 69 subscriptions per 100 inhabitants
Some points to note…
The declining mobile-cellular subscriptions averaged across the Caribbean could be due to, among other things, persons relinquishing their second (or third) handset, especially in countries where mobile number portability exists. Alternatively, and perhaps more importantly, it could also be due to consumers not being able to adequately afford maintaining more than one handset, which in these still challenging economic times is a distinct possibility.
The trend evident in the fixed-line segment of Figure 1, i.e. the steady decrease in subscription levels, could be attributed consumers continuing to relying almost exclusively on their mobile/cellular phone to stay connected. In a number of instances, this position could again be due to limited finances to comfortably maintain two separate services, and a justification by consumers that they do not need to have a residential (or business) fixed line: their existing mobile/cellular phone service should suffice.
The continued growth in fixed broadband Internet in the region, as shown in Figure 1, does demonstrate the growing importance of that market to consumers. However, as reflected in our most recent Snapshot on fixed broadband affordability, retail rates might still be out of the reach of most consumers, which does not include the cost of the interface, such as PC or laptop.
In the service-specific graphs, Figures 2—4, there appears to be a relationship between per capita GDP and the service penetration levels reported. Generally, higher per capita GDP indicates higher personal incomes and consequently the scope for citizen to afford what might be perceived as ‘luxury’ items, which could include telecoms products and services.
However, the graphs also highlight countries that have considerably lower per capita GDP than those at the top of the list that have (surprisingly) high service density levels. Under those circumstances, retail prices might be lower, which may make certain telecoms services more affordable for consumers, but terrain and the distribution and concentration of the population could also be important contributors to service take up.