Sunday 16 January 2022

No plans for 5G in Cayman Islands


The Cayman Islands is a British Overseas Territory in the Caribbean. The 264 sq. km territory comprises the three islands of Grand Cayman, Cayman Brac and Little Cayman located south of Cuba, northeast of Costa Rica, north of Panama, east of Mexico and northwest of Jamaica. Its population is approximately 66,000.

The Covid-19 pandemic continues to wreak havoc on economies throughout the Caribbean region. The reduction in the number of tourists has had a knock-on effect on 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 mobile 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 operator, 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.

As a result 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.

Flow is the incumbent provider and Digicel came to the Caribbean 2001-6 to end this monopoly. In the Cayman Islands they are now on par each sharing about 50% of the market and many locals have two SIM cards.

Flow uses the American frequencies of 850 and 1900 MHz for 2G/GSM and 850 MHz for 3G up to HSPA+, while Digicel employs European frequencies of 900 MHz for 2G and 2100 MHz for 3G. 4G/LTE has started on both networks in 2013 on 700 MHz (bands 13/17).

Flow up to 2015 was called Lime and rebranded, is the incumbent provider in the Caymans. It's operated by Cable & Wireless that has been sold to Liberty Global.

Note that 2G and 3G is on 850 and 1900 MHz. They advertise a '100% coverage' for 4G/LTE on 700 MHz (B17) available for prepaid. In 2016, they announced that their network is now an LTE-A network.

Flow Cayman Islands is aiming to extend its fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) network across Grand Cayman and the majority of the Sister Islands by the end of 2021.

The pledge is part of the operator’s goal of ensuring that every home in the Cayman Islands can access 1Gbps download speeds, reports Cayman Compass.

TeleGeography notes that Flow’s fibre service is available in all districts on Grand Cayman, although it cannot be accessed in certain areas. The operator’s priority is addressing this via network expansions in areas including West Bay and Spotts. Flow has stated that it will migrate customers from its copper network at no additional cost.

Digicel started in 2006 to challenge the monopoly of Lime that is called now Flow. They claim to have a '99% coverage', but their coverage map is in fact much more limited. While they have a somewhat lower coverage than Flow, their prices are generally lower than Flow's too.

They use European frequencies of 900 and 1800 MHz for 2G, 850 MHz for 3G, 1800 MHz (Band 3) and 700 MHz (Band 13) for 4G/LTE. Their 4G/LTE network offers twice the bandwidth of their competition but unlike them, is not an LTE-A network.

In 2019 Digicel Cayman has announced an upgrade to its 3G and LTE networks to increase data speeds and ensure 99.9% coverage across Grand Cayman, Cayman Brac and Little Cayman. As part of the ongoing improvement and upgrade process, Digicel has opted to discontinue its 2G coverage, which will reduce the company’s power consumption while improving its service.

‘By replacing 2G with 3G and LTE we are lowering our carbon footprint and enhancing performance and reliability. It is a win-win for both Digicel and our customers,’ explained Kevin Mullings, Switch Engineer at Digicel Cayman.

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