Sunday 19 December 2021

Haitians praying for Reliable 4G LTE Mobile Broadband

Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Their economic and social indicators remain far lower than the average for Latin America and the Caribbean. The recent years of political and economic turmoil and natural disasters, including periodic and damaging hurricanes, have stifled most sectors of the economy, including the telecoms sector which remains one of the least developed in the world. In the internet market, poor fixed-line infrastructure has obliged most businesses to rely on satellite and wireless technologies. 

Haiti currently has two mobile networks operaters: Digicel Haiti and Natcom.

Digicel came to Haiti in 2006 and has won the most customers since. The other provider Natcom was created after the privatization of the national operator in 2010 with Vietnamese help. Other networks often saw suspensions too: Concel sold its cellular network branded as Voilá to Digicel in 2012. The CDMA mobile network of Haitel was shut down in 2013.

In 2020 both operators were given a one year period of exclusivity in the provision of LTE services, though both had asked for four years. Their efforts in promoting LTE as well as innovative mobile data services such as mobile banking are going some way to improving internet connectivity in rural areas, and in coming years this will enable communities to make greater use of internet services in those many areas where fixed-line infrastructure remains inadequate.

However the mobile networks are unreliable and only cover some areas with 3G, often dubbed as "4G". 4G/LTE has started with Natcom. Many locals have two SIM cards, because of the situation as starter prices are minimal. WhatsApp is very popular to communicate.

Digicel has become the market leader with almost 3/4 of all mobile users in the country since its launch in 2006. It has a reasonable coverage for voice, but only some areas are covered by 3G for faster data which are marketed as "4G". These areas are shaded in dark red on this coverage map. 3G coverage is verified in Cotes des Arcadins, Anse A Galets, Saint-Marc, Gonaives, Cap-Haitian, Port-de-Paix, Hinche, Mirebalais.

2G/GSM up to EDGE is on 900 MHz and 1800 MHz and 3G labeled "4G" up to HSPA+ on 2100 MHz. 

In October 2021 Digicel Haiti confirmed that 15% of its cell sites are currently unable to function due to ongoing fuel shortages and other issues around security. Digicel Haiti has around 1500 cell sites across the country.  They confirmed that around 10% of these were non-operational due to a lack of fuel, demonstrating the scale of the escalation.

The outage has affected 200,000 mainly rural users of the company's services. Digicel has approximately 4.5 million customers in Haiti.

Natcom was created in 2010 after the privatization of the state-owned national provider Teleco with Vietnamese assistance. It's a joint venture owned 60% by Viettel and the Vietnamese army and 40% by the Haitian state.

The operators 2G is on 900 MHz and its 3G on 2100 MHz. 4G/LTE is on 1700 MHz (AWS, band 4). They hold a temporary 4G/LTE concession covering six metropolitan areas of the capital Port-au-Prince: Delmas, Petionville, City Centre, Carrefour, Tabarre and Plaine du Cul-de-sac. In 2018 finally the Haitian regulator CONATEL granted them bandwidth for 4G/LTE on 1700 MHz (band 4).

Natcom has still less coverage than Digicel, but offers in certain areas faster speeds and generally lower rates thanks to many promotions.

Natcom has built a 6,500km fibre backbone, which is helping to support growth in the fixed-line broadband sector, practical challenges mean that for the majority of people and businesses connectivity is achieved through mobile networks. 

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