Digicel’s New ‘Fix’-Ation

Digicel’s appeal a week ago for the speedy introduction of number portability to include not just mobile, but the landline platform has been motivated by the company’s effort to secure a bigger slice of the fixed-line market now 95 per cent controlled by rival LIME Jamaica.

Triple-play service provider Flow Jamaica and Digicel share the remaining five per cent of the fixed-line business.

Digicel, which reportedly commands more than 80 per cent of the mobile market, wants the government to speed up the number portability process and is lobbying for fixed-line numbers to be added to the portability policy being crafted by the Office of Utilities Regulation.

Digicel Jamaica CEO Mark Linehan told Sunday Business his company operates a fixed wireless business through its corporate arm, Digicel Business, which targets commercial fixed line customers.

“With LIME currently having control of over 95 per cent of fixed line customers – despite efforts from Digicel and Flow – it means the Government now has a responsibility to challenge LIME’s dominance by ensuring local number portability is implemented on fixed lines without delay,” said Linehan via email.

“This is necessary to enable full liberalization of this market and create a level playing field across the telecommunications industry in Jamaica,” he added.

digicel alternative

Digicel, which launched its fixed-line service in 2007 for commercial customers, pitched it as an alternative to the long established public switched telephone network (PSTN), the world’s collection of interconnected voice-oriented public telephone networks.

“Digicel Business offers traditional voice services across a secure, reliable and extensive voice network that is owned, managed and maintained by Digicel Business. Digicel’s Business Voice provides the chance to combine business mobile and Digicel fixed-wireless line accounts,” Linehan said.

His publicly released missive to the OUR urged the agency to speed up the implementation of number portability on which discussions have been ongoing for more than two years.

Asked what was causing the delay, Linehan said there were numerous operational and technical issues which would need to be assessed prior to implementation.

“That said, we await guidance on the establishment of an industry stakeholder working group which is a necessary precursor to agreeing the process for eventual implementation,” he said.

The OUR in 2010 awarded a US$60,000 contract to Canadian-based Intelecon Research and Consultancy to undertake a feasibility study and cost-benefit analysis on implementation options for number portability in Jamaica.

Economically feasible

The utilities regulator later reported to the industry that it was, in fact, economically feasible to implement the system.

The OUR is yet to respond to Sunday Business queries as to what was causing the delay in implementation, whether it has done all required of it to introduce the system, what is left to be done and, generally, the overall status as regards realization of the system.

Earlier this week, LIME’s chairman, Chris Dehring, was quoted as saying the company was aware of the risks associated with the implementation of number portability across the landline platform – its dominant business – but was ready to submit the requisite documents to the OUR to fast-track its implementation.

Portability allows customers to switch to competing networks without giving up their old phone numbers, thereby reduce switching costs.

Research has shown that a dominant player in the telecoms business is less likely to be enthusiastic about the idea of number portability because they are likely to be hit hardest by migration.

In that vein, Digicel is seeking to use the system to build its fixed-line customer base, and LIME hopes to to win back mobile market share from Digicel, which operates the largest mobile phone network.


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