Virus impact over each market - telecom operators, government agencies and regulators' responses - revised forecasts for the next 5 years.
One of the smaller countries in Central America, Belize in many respects has closer affinities with English speaking countries of the Caribbean than with its immediate neighbours.
Belize’s fixed-line teledensity and mobile penetration remain lower than average for the region, a legacy of insufficient market competition and underinvestment in telecoms services, exacerbated by lax managerial standards within the incumbent telco Digi. However, Digi has recently adopted a reforming strategy, partly expressed by its rebranding in August 2018 as it aims to transform itself at all levels into an effectively competitive operator more commercially minded and focussed on cheaper pricing and customer retention. The company has undertaken significant investment in infrastructure, launching an LTE-A service at the end of 2016 and in mid-2017 completing a submarine cable to Ambergris Caye, enabling it to launch an FttP service in San Pedro. Loans secured since 2017 are being used to complete a program to migrate its infrastructure from legacy copper to fibre by mid-2019.
The Belizean telecom market was liberalised in 2003 yet Digi continues to hold a monopoly in fixed-line services and it remains the dominant provider of mobile and broadband services. In 2009 the state renationalised Digi after a change of government brought to light a questionable Accommodation Agreement between the previous administration and the company. Although the rationale for the nationalisation was to improve conditions for consumers, Digi’s prices remained high. The government has undertaken some measures to improve competition, notably by obliging Digi in mid-2013 to open its networks to VoIP services. In mid-2015 the government came to an agreement regarding an outstanding $22.5 million loan signed off in 2007 by a former Digi management team which the company subsequently considered unlawful. Digi was obliged to repay the government from its own funds. In November 2017 the government made the final payment to Digi’s former owners following the renationalisation of the company in 2009.
BuddeComm notes that the outbreak of the Coronavirus in 2020 is having a significant impact on production and supply chains globally. During the coming year the telecoms sector to various degrees is likely to experience a downturn in mobile device production, while it may also be difficult for network operators to manage workflows when maintaining and upgrading existing infrastructure. Overall progress towards 5G may be postponed or slowed down in some countries.
On the consumer side, spending on telecoms services and devices is under pressure from the financial effect of large-scale job losses and the consequent restriction on disposable incomes. However, the crucial nature of telecom services, both for general communication as well as a tool for home-working, will offset such pressures. In many markets the net effect should be a steady though reduced increased in subscriber growth.
Although it is challenging to predict and interpret the long-term impacts of the crisis as it develops, these have been acknowledged in the industry forecasts contained in this report.
The report also covers the responses of the telecom operators as well as government agencies and regulators as they react to the crisis to ensure that citizens can continue to make optimum use of telecom services. This can be reflected in subsidy schemes and the promotion of tele-health and tele-education, among other solutions.
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