Broadband shakeup, 2007

Originally published in the Business Guardian.

Customers looking for broadband connections in Trinidad and Tobago are finally finding a market in a state of true competition, with several fibre optic lines making landfall at Macqueripe and new providers of connection to the Internet backbone getting ready to put their capacity on the market.

For most of the last ten years, the sole pipe for Internet access was through TSTT. Alternative methods of accessing the Internet were explored with enthusiasm, most notably VSAT connections to satellite providers and there was at least one attempt to bring the DirectPC satellite/landline link to the Internet to Trinidad and Tobago, but for fast, reliable connections to the Internet in this part of the world, nothing could beat hard wire.

That put TSTT in an enviable role, if you happened to be TSTT. Everyone else in the business had to buy their service from their competitor.

This uncomfortable position didn’t, generally, work out to the advantage of the Internet Service Providers who were buying their connections from the monopolist of the day.

Aggressive pricing on dialup services, no-charge long-distance calls on a TSTT provided 800 number and customer focused initiatives like SmartChoice, which assured no charge local calls to any number but a competitive local ISP, spelled the end of dialup services like Opus Networx and RaveTT.

That put TSTT in a strong position to market its highspeed Internet access service (HSIA), which quickly dominated the market.

CCTT, the now defunct cable provider, was able to leverage their transmission links to piggyback a fair broadband service that they delivered to a small group of customers, but it wasn’t until 2007 that their successor company, Columbus Communications began seriously courting broadband customers from the general public.

Their market entry has been measured in pace and the company began by buying bandwidth from TSTT. Later this year, the company makes their own connection to the Arcos Ring, a Caribbean fibre optic line that made landfall at Macqueripe a few months ago.

The last time bandwidth into Trinidad and Tobago was increased this substantively was in mid-2005, when TSTT announced that they had doubled their bandwidth capacity from 180 megabits to 335 megabits.

The late 2007 jump in bandwidth capacity looks set to make that increase look like a microscopic inching forward.

TSTT’s broadband service was a lacklustre; bandwidth constrained solution that the company is evidently turning its back on firmly. Its replacement, Blink Broadband is being marketed aggressively with no reference to the service provider.

According to Joseph Herdé, Head of Marketing & Sales, TSTT Broadband Group, “Blink Broadband represents a completely new level of product & service for Broadband, we did not want to draw any association to our previous High Speed Internet Access (HSIA) product. We were aware of the issues associated with that product, and our aim was to use lessons learned to develop a new product and redefine Broadband service.”

The company’s new product matrix is aggressively priced, and clearly designed to go head to head with Flow’s product mix. What HSIA offered for more than TT$400 is now available for TT$79 and you can get almost ten times the bandwidth if you happen to have $400 burning a hole in your pocket every month.

The service isn’t available in all areas yet, but the company has announced plans to make the service available everywhere there is HSIA by the end of the year. Expect this product and pricing mix to ripple through the market.

Green Dot, for instance, a local provider of wireless connections to the Internet which they transmit from a location in St James and repeat throughout the most heavily populated corridors of the nation to small dish receivers, is playing their cards close to their chest on current pricing.

“We will be launching some new packages very soon,” Green Dot’s Ketan Patel wrote in response to an e-mailed query, “hence we cannot give rates as yet. But the rates are very competitive.”

Green Dot made headlines recently with their successful bid for three blocks of 700mhz frequency from TATT along with Telstar Cable Systems. The company plans to use these frequency allocations to deliver access to areas where wired connections don’t exist or are unreliable.

“These areas prove to be very challenging due to the terrain as our infrastructure currently uses line of sight technology,” wrote Patel. “However, with the introduction of the 700MHz to Green Dot we will be able to deploy non-line of sight infrastructure and hence easier serve these under-served markets. In short, this will help us enter areas where there are no other providers.”

Like Flow, who currently deliver their services on TSTT provided Internet connections and who will retain that service in parallel with their new Arcos connection, Green Dot maintains a satellite connection and connections with two local providers providing fibre optic access.

All these connection options and the general increase in bandwidth mean more than just faster connections to the Internet for customers at reduced prices. This richer menu of connections moves broadband Internet connections from expensive rarity to commodity item and that poses new problems for service providers.

Assuming that market equilibrium eventually reduces the cost of providing access to cost plus operating expenses plus the profit that all parties agree is acceptable, then what will separate one provider from another will be the quality of service and added benefits that they can bring to the consumer.

That’s going to mean enriching the Internet experience in tangible ways that either increases the value of connecting with a particular provider for consumers or leverages business potential for corporate customers.

TSTT has already decisively missed the boat on an interesting entertainment option, failing to deliver on an almost two-year old promise to offer services on their broadband and cellular networks that they licensed from TATT.

In the short term, the determinants will be word of mouth, price and demonstrated service. TSTT will be beefing up its anaemic broadband helpdesk with outsourced assistance that will finally make someone available to solve your problems late at night and on Sundays.

TSTT’s Blink Broadband prices

Residential

All prices in TT dollars per month, VAT inclusive

256kbits download / 64kbits upload (promotional offer) $79

512kbits download / 128kbits upload $149

1MB download / 256kbits upload $229

2MB download / 512kbits upload $349

up to 10MB download /768kbits upload $699

Business

512kbits download / 128kbits upload $799

1MB download / 256kbits upload $1,249

1MB download (sync) $1,799

2MB download / 768kbits upload $2,399

3MB download / 768kbits upload $2,949

4MB download / 768kbits upload $5,249

Flow’s Broadband Prices

All prices in TT dollars per month, VAT inclusive

• u-click 20

20 hours per month, 1 email address 1Mbps download / 256Kbps upload – $91.99

• u-click 50: 50 hours per month, 1 email address; 1Mbps download / 256Kbps upload – $164.44

• u-click Unlimited 1 unlimited hours; 2Mbps download / 512Kbps upload – $390.99

• u-click Unlimited 2: 6Mbps download / 2Mbps upload – $689.99