Thursday, 8 April 2021

Jamaica has good 4G coverage but no certainty on 5G


The Caribbean island of Jamaica currently has two mobile network operators: Digicel Jamaica and
Flow (by Cable & Wireless).

Jamaica is home to over 3 million mobile users, with Digicel claiming around 2.2 million and Flow having around one million.

In 2016 Jamaica's cabinet approved the award of a third licence to Symbiote Investments that has paid US$ 20.8 million to roll out a 4G LTE service under the Caricel brand. They started in 2017 but face a regulatory investigation into the circumstances of their licensing and in 2019 their licence was revoked and the provider shut down.

Jamaica’s Office of Utilities Regulation (OUR) has instructed Digicel and Flow to improve what it describes as ‘persistent quality of service (QoS) issues’ such as data and voice service interruption, dropped calls and calls not being initiated. Both companies admitted that the steep and rapid rise in the demand and use of data had hampered their service delivery. For its part, Digicel blamed the QoS lapses on its modernization program, while Flow claimed that the incidents were isolated and not related to a general failure of its telecoms infrastructure. Flow also cited vandalism and ongoing road works as mitigating factors.


Jamaica was the first market where Digicel started in 2001 in the Caribbean. It's considered as their home base and they soon became market leader on the island with a major share of the customers.

They run a dual CDMA and GSM network. CDMA is on BC1 and only for inbound roaming. Their GSM 2G is on 900 MHz and 1800 MHz and 3G is on 850 MHz up to DC-HSPA+. They started 4G/LTE on 700 MHz or Band 17 in 2016 in Kingston, St Andrew and around the Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay, with hopes of it reaching other parts of the island soon. Recently, they've expanded coverage to Montego Bay, Falmouth and a few other places on the North Coast and South Coast. On their 2G/3G networks they claim to cover 99% of Jamaicans, on 4G/LTE 65% are covered at the end of 2018..

Digicel has deployed LTE on Band 4 with a bandwidth of 20 MHz aggregated with Band 17. Digicel was the first carrier to offer HD Voice in Jamaica, available on its 3G network for AMR-WB or VoLTE capable devices like iPhone and Samsung Galaxy devices.


FLOW, previously called LIME is the incumbent provider in Jamaica. It's operated by Cable & Wireless Communications which is owned by Liberty Global.

FLOW's 2G network is only on 850 MHz. FLOW's 3G network resides on 850 MHz and 1900 MHz. Both their 2G & 3G networks are available island wide. FLOW recently disabled DC-HSDPA and GSM on 1900 MHz, opting to use the spectrum for LTE and a small allocation for 3G, instead. The company is also intending to shutter its legacy technology (presumably 2G) "soon" but timelines were not provided.

FLOW started its 4G/LTE rollout in the Kingston Metropolitan Area in 2016 and expanded it to Montego Bay (and its environs) and the resort town of Ocho Rios as well as the towns of Spanish Town, Portmore in St. Catherine and Mandeville in Manchester in 2017 (see coverage map). FLOW's primary LTE Band, Band 4 (1700 MHz), has less in-building penetration. As a result, it doesn't propagate as far as lower frequencies like 700 MHz on Digicel. Band 4 offers more speed and network capacity than its competition because it sits on a 20 MHz bandwidth. FLOW also began deploying LTE Band 2 (1900 MHz) in places like Montego Bay, Ocho Rios, Kingston and a good portion of rural areas with aggregation. They recently also began adding Band 12 (700 MHz) as the 3rd LTE band that will become the layer on which the carrier deploys VoLTE. The network has already begun deployment of its full spectrum in some rural areas like Portland, St. Mary, St. Elizabeth, St. Thomas and other like areas. FLOW, as of early 2020, claims its LTE network now covers 95% of the Jamaican population.

FLOW was awarded a Speedtest Award from Ookla for Q2-Q3 2018, with average download speeds of 22.66 Mbit/s and average upload speeds of 9.62 Mbit/s. They intended to cover all Jamaicans by 2020.

The Jamaican government is currently considering a proposal from US firm Rivada Networks, which would see the vendor deploy a 5G network free of charge, in exchange for a share of the eventual revenues. According to the Jamaica Observer, which quotes remarks by Donald Tapia, the US Ambassador to Jamaica, the proposal has been on the table for some time, but the authorities remain undecided.

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