CJ Interviews

Digicel Group CEO Colm Delves on 4G, a Dynamic Haiti and Caribbean Integration

By: Caribbean Journal Staff - September 1, 2011

By Alexander Britell

Colm Delves has been Digicel Group CEO since 2005, after joining the company as Group Chief Financial Officer in 2004. Delves has overseen a fourfold increase in the number of markets the company reaches, helping to bring the telecom giant to 32 markets and 11 million customers globally. Caribbean Journal talked to Delves about changing Caribbean wireless, the dynamic Haitian market and what the development of communication technology means for Caribbean integration.

How has the Caribbean wireless market changed over the last few years?

Clearly the market across the region has changed immeasurably over the last few years. Reliable, affordable communications are now the norm and customers across the region benefit from some of the best technology, the most competitive calling rates and fantastic customer service. Much of that has been thanks to Digicel. Practically all markets are now liberalised — with the Bahamas being the most notable exception – but there are plans for it to be opened to competition in two years time.

What do you think has your company’s greatest success of late?

Last September, we launched 4G Broadband in Jamaica based on WiMAX technology with an investment of $22.7 million on top of our existing investment of $850 million in Jamaica. Our aim with the product was to drive the accessibility and affordability of broadband internet across Jamaica – which, before we launched, stood at a relatively low 13%. In the year since launch, we have taken broadband penetration in Jamaica up to 16% and our customers are loving the opportunities it affords in terms of giving rise to a better economy, better education and better entertainment. In Haiti, we are seeing a surge in demand and this is now our biggest growth market with a 30% uplift in subscribers over the past 12 months. Likewise, we are seeing great success with our rollouts of mobile 4G [based on HSPA+ technology] in Bermuda and the French West Indies with customers enjoying speeds up to ten times faster than traditional 3G. Turning to our support of our communities – that is a source of great pride and a huge focus for everyone in Digicel as we are firmly committed to giving back to and seeing our communities flourish and grow as we flourish and grow.

What are some of the initiatives Digicel is working on right now?

Right now, we have just launched mobile 4G in the Dutch Caribbean with intentions to offer this also in Panama, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Cayman and Barbados in the current financial year and other markets going forward.

What is your view on the growth of the Caribbean’s economy for the next few years coming out of the downturn?

I’m very optimistic about the growth of the Caribbean economy in the coming years. We’re already seeing strong signs that the Caribbean economy has moved on from the recession of 2009 with growth in tourism numbers returning and economic forecasts for the region improving. The IMF is forecasting robust growth of over 4 percent for the region in 2011 and 2012. I’m particularly pleased to see that there is an expectation that Haiti will grow by over 8 percent this year and next, and it is this sort of economic dynamism that will help rapidly improve the standard of living in a country that has faced so many challenges in the past.

How much do you increased communication in the region will help Caribbean integration?

Increased communication is a key contributor to economic growth. When Caribbean markets were served by high-cost monopoly operators, it was a significant barrier to trade within countries and across the Caribbean. Now Digicel customers can call all around the Caribbean for less than the price of a can of Coke. This is helping to support the increased flow of goods and services between Caribbean markets which will help drive economic growth and further Caribbean integration.

How can the spread of wireless help improve Caribbean economies?

Access to wireless communications can significantly improve the lives of individuals and contribute greatly to the economy. Taking Jamaica as an example; when Digicel launched in Jamaica, the nation’s GDP rose by 5 percent in 2002 – just one year after Digicel’s launch – with government ministers attributing that growth largely to the presence of Digicel. Likewise, our efforts to drive broadband penetration have also contributed to the economy in Jamaica where we launched Digicel 4G Broadband based on WiMAX technology a year ago. With recent research from CESifo suggesting that a 10 percent increase in broadband penetration can help to raise annual per capita GDP growth by 0.9 to 1.5 percentage points and the Mona School of Business stating broadband internet penetration is now at 16 percent — up from 13 percent a year ago – you can see that Digicel’s wireless services are having a direct and positive impact on our economies.

Are there any Caribbean markets in which the company wishes to increase its presence or create one?

Currently we are focused on growing our market share and increasing penetration in all of our 23 markets in the Caribbean. Looking forward, we also see potential opportunities in the Bahamas, Belize and Cuba over the next few years.

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