The Covid-19 pandemic continues to wreak havoc on the health and economies of countries throughout the Caribbean region. Given the significant exposure that many of them have to the tourism industry, there has been a flow-on effect in the telecom sector, with declines seen in subscriber numbers (particularly for prepaid mobile services — the mainstay of short-term visitors) and revenue. Fixed and mobile broadband services are two areas that have benefited from the crisis to a small extent as employees and students have resorted to working from home, but their contribution to the sector has been insufficient to offset steep falls in other areas of the market.
One major casualty may be the region’s second largest telco operator, Digicel. The company filed for Chapter 15 bankruptcy in the US in April 2020. It continues to operate in all of its Caribbean markets as it seeks to refinance billions of dollars of debt, but the pressure is mounting as voice revenues continue to drop from quarter to quarter, and recent adverse currency fluctuations have made the debt burden even worse.
The other major telco, regional incumbent Cable & Wireless Communications (CWC), is experiencing similar drops in subscriber numbers and revenue. However, CWC has the benefit of having the financial backing of its new owner, telecoms multinational Liberty Global. CWC is steadily expanding and enhancing its fixed and mobile networks in many of the countries it serves around the Caribbean, despite many locations being small islands with very small populations. The investment strategy should enable CWC to at least maintain its market share — if not grow it substantially should Digicel falter.
One area of the telecom market that does not yet appear poised for growth is 5G mobile. Governments, regulators, and even the mobile network operators have shown that they have little appetite for investing in 5G opportunities at the present time. Network expansion and enhancements remain concentrated around improving LTE coverage. Until the economies and markets stabilize, and overseas visitors return (with increased spending power as well as higher expectations), there is unlikely to be much momentum towards implementing 5G capabilities anywhere in the region.
Cable & Wireless Communications (CWC), LIME, FLOW, Liberty Global, Liberty Latin America, Digicel Group, Orange Caraïbes, United Telecommunications Services (UTS), KeyTech, Karib Cable, APUA, Setar, Bahamas Telecommunications Company, ALIV, Bermuda Telecommunications Services, Telecom Services of Trinidad & Tobago, ATN,
Paul, Many thanks for your inputs yesterday. You provided a compelling different perspective to our traditional infrastructure focus and this is valuable for our future planning. I also had very favourable feedback from our participants on your involvement.
Stephen Negus, Aurecon
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