It is just a year ago that Digicel’s Wimax erupted onto the local broadband market with the aim of revolutionising and completely remodelling Jamaica’s broadband service. After routing the telecoms juggernaut Claro in the christmas battle a year before, Digicel had re-equipped it’s forces and turned its attention to Jamaica’s decrepit internet system. The company, seeking to set yet another record in it’s unprecedented drive across the caribbean, came with mobile Wimax labelled as 4G. The well known quality of Digicel’s products as well as it’s deadly marketing techniques made any venture of the company a highly feared one by it’s potential competitors. This fear stems from the fact that Digicel’s campaigns are usually short but extremely destructive to competition, mainly due to the fact that instead of getting entangled in a long war of attrition with a competitor, Digicel uses quick, catchy and flashy advertisements to deadly effect. This technique over the last 10 years have almost completely decimated LIME’s mobile market share and structure, while in the last few years it has enabled the company to survive powerful blows from Claro who is not only a cheaper offering but is also supported by several times more resources than the entire Digicel can muster. Unlike the mobile sector though Digicel faces not only an experienced and entrenched opposition but also a broadband delivery method that was reliable and well tested.
Wimax 4G VS ADSL, Wireless VS Wire
The well tested and ease of delivery of LIME’s offering of ADSL would pose a great obstacle to any newcomer in the market. This is also compounded by LIME’s vast political clout and the fact that the wired sector of LIME’s services are it’s single largest remaining resource pool, the rest of it’s former massive empire had been chipped away piecemeal by both Digicel and Claro Jamaica(soon to be a part of Digicel). LIME thus puts great emphasis on this area of it’s operations and has dedicated almost its entire defensive strategic capabilities to this one service, their aim: halt, restrict, counter then completely destroy Digicel’s venture into the broadband market. LIME knows that if Digicel was defeated in this one area the company would not only lose millions but would also lose it’s status as being invincible. While restricting Digicel in the broadband market, LIME would launch mobile tv which is a service dedicated to mobile phones, so not only would Digicel face competition in a new area but they would also face a refreshed push by LIME in the mobile phone market.
Digicel’s aim to take the last remaining stronghold of LIME is only natural, not only have they battered both LIME on their own then LIME-Claro in partnership in the mobile sector but they have also significantly reduced LIME’s share in the corporate sector. To take on LIME would not be easy though, Digicel’s experience in broadband was mostly gained from its time offering fixed wimax in the cayman islands, a market that is completely different from Jamaica. Digicel also lacked LIME’s political control of the residential broadband market, ontop of that Digicel chooses to use a medium of distribution that is untested on Jamaica’s rugged terrain. The use of high frenquency Wimax in Jamaica would always be the concern of anyone looking forward to the service, high frequency radio waves usually have difficulty penetrating obstacles such as trees, hills and houses, atleast one of which every area of Jamaica is completely riddled with.
Wimax’s launch was highly anticipated by everyone looking for an alternative broadband solution, I for one was impress by the service during the testing phase and was only hopeful of a reasonable pricing plan. I was never worried about quality; seeing 6mbps down and 1mbps up after launch and knowing Digicel’s track record where quality of service was concerned I was supremely confident that even with heavy usage the quality wont fall by much. The excellent performance continued for two weeks, afterwhich the first of several problems surfaced: pages were now taking several seconds to load or not loading at all even though speedtest gives an impressive figure of 5mbps down. It eventually reached the point where not even speedtest loads, however downloads continued to run at over 100KB/s and streaming is still acceptable. No one at digicel could tell me what the problem was, a few weeks later and facebook chat became unuseable because of the messed up ping time, the only way to communicate online was by downloading a native messengerr application, which was in itself a pain because the download pages wouldnt load. Torrent files were downloading at an astonishing 6KB/s making that form of content gathering all but useless.
The first few months of my time with Digicel 4G was riddled with problems and complains, the forums at techjamaica.com were filled with complains about the quality of service from just about every rural user. By January 2011 the internet experience had all but collapsed, speeds were now restricted to no more than 40KB/s and averaging at 24KB/s. The poor performance of Digicel’s 4G forced me to abandon it a second time in favor of LIME’s EDGE which at that time was free and ironically just a bit slower than 4G.
My 3rd attempt at 4G: The Greenpacket CPE
After spending months in Bath St Thomas, an area so far untouched by 4G I moved back to my former district, just about 200m from the house where I had experienced the poor showing of Digicel’s broadband solution. I reluctantly gave the internet option a 3rd try after being coaxed by friends from the area.
Purchasing and setting up the modem was rather easy, during the process of buying the modem at JAMCEL in Linstead I had to wait in line until two other transactions for similar modems were completed. I now get full signal indoors with ease and did not have to resort to mounting the modem outside like what I did with the last CPE I had. Speed was not much above what it was during Wimax’s dark ages.
In the days I was averaging at 1mbps down and 0.25mbps up while at early hours(2am-4am) speeds increased to an impressive 4mbps down while downloading files. It was not all smooth going though, while registering the modem I encountered alot of page loading problems, at one point I was so frustrated I almost gave up on registering the modem that night. This problem resurfaced on the second night of using the service, pages refused to load and I had to give up and leave what I was working on for the next day.
Clueless Broadband Support Specialists?
During all the issues I was experiencing, especially the registration problem, the broadband support personnel remained clueless as to the cause. It was almost like de ja vu as the specialists stuttered and repeated words as they tried to grasp what I was explaining to them, what they were able to mutter were merely scripted replies that they have been taught to say during training. The inflexible psychi of the support staff reminds me of a soviet-style command structure where individual staff members are unable or forbidden from using their own uncharted knowledge to assist customers. This is only an ingredient for further problems however as frustrated customers will take out their frustration on these staff members who are unable to assist them. Telling a disgruntled customer: “Sir move your modem closer to a window or a door” when their modem already has full signal strength will make no sense to them whatsoever. Further explanation is needed to help people address problems. Outdated signal maps handed out to staff personnel is also another problem; I was informed that a new Wimax site went up just about 8km from where I reside and I was receiving full signal indoors from a neighbour’s modem that was purchased in January, yet the clueless staff at JAMCEL was informing me that there is no signal in the area because the map doesn’t indicate so.
Digicel Wimax today controls 25% of the local broadband market. This feat was accomplished in just about a year which is typical of Digicel’s products, however Digicel had very little if any impact on LIME’s, FLOW’s and newcomer DEKAL”s market volume. Yes it has reduced the incumbents’ market share significantly, however the broadband market was so underserved, with well over a million potential customers, that Digicel merely added new subscribers rather than directly taking customers from any of the incumbents. Unlike their revolutionary move into the mobile phone market in 2001, Digicel’s move into mobile broadband caused no major upheaval, decline of profit or any further problem for LIME(formerly Cable and Wureless Jamaica). It could be argued that in a lot of ways it may have helped incumbents through educating the public about the internet and literally opening their eyes on the subject.
Even with all it’s shortcomings Digicel 4G is expected to continue expanding, however if the solution was pitted in a one on one showdown with LIME’s ADSL it would lose the battle. This is mainly due to the so far problem riddled service and the fact that in a lot of ways LIME still controls the residential broadband market. This is not expected to change much for the other year as LIME unveils new plans and upgrades the system in the more rural parts of Jamaica. Digicel will need to significantly improve its 4G’s experience if it hopes to grab that crucial mindshare prize where residential internet solutions are concerned, in a lot of ways most people still thinks of internet service as either FLOW’s offering or LIME’s ADSL, thus getting people to think differently is the first step in preparing a credible defence when/if the market becomes saturated and the real clash begins.
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