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can you hear me now?

Digicel Leads Guyana’s Mobile Market, While GT&T Dominates International Traffic


t’s hard to go very far in Guyana without running into Digicel, the country’s dominant mobile phone service provider. Digicel’s advertising is everywhere, from the signs greeting arriving passengers at Cheddi Jagan International Airport to the bright red umbrellas that provide shade to fruit vendors at Georgetown’s colorful Stabroek Market.

In only 11 years, parent company Digicel Group Ltd. — incorporated in Bermuda and headquartered in Jamaica — has grown to over 13 million customers across more than 30 markets in the Caribbean, Central America and the Pacific. In Guyana, Digicel is the only wireless rival to Guyana Telephone & Telegraph (GT&T), which was privatized in 1990 and enjoys a protected monopoly on fixed-line dialing and international service through its majority stockholder, Atlantic Tele-Network (ATNI). Gregory Dean, CEO of Digicel Guyana since July 2008, said his company started operations on Feb. 14, 2007, and has since become Guyana’s top mobile provider, with more than 50 percent of the market. The remainder is controlled by GT&T’s Cellink. “Since we’ve come in, about 150,000 people now have mobile access they never had before. Domestic calling rates have dropped by more than 50 percent, and a lot of new telecom services have come to Guyana,” Dean told us. “Before Digicel, for example, there were no smart phones on the market here. We’ve contributed greatly to smart-phone use in Guyana; today, it’s now the primary source of Internet access for most Guyanese.” At present, Guyana has 154,000 fixed-line subscribers, 28,000 fixed-broadband customers and 570,000 mobile subscribers. Although Guyana’s fixed-line density is high considering the country’s low per-capita income, the mobile penetration rate has recently stagnated at around 80 percent — below the regional average — meaning that there are still plenty of opportunities for growth. “Guyana receives over $400 million a year in remittances, representing 20 percent of its GDP.

Photo: Jacqui James

That Diaspora market is critical to our business,” Dean said. “People in the Diaspora send money, and local people spend it.” For competitive reasons, Dean wouldn’t reveal what Digicel’s local revenues are, or how much subscribers pay on average for mobile service. He did say the company has 180 direct employees as well as another 1,000 indirect employees at the retail level. The single biggest factor that could boost business for Digicel, according to Dean, is a complete liberalization of the telecom sector — including both fixed-line telephony as well as lucrative international services. The Guyanese government renewed GT&T’s fixed-line monopoly in December 2010, though a new telecommunications bill has been drafted that would throw that sector open to competition. “We anticipated that by mid-year, the market could open up. That’s what we were hoping for, but nothing has happened. I think the market should have been opened a long time ago,” Dean said. “We have one hand tied behind our back. Obviously the international market is going to be

From right, Digicel CEO Gregory Dean, Guyanese Minister of Amerindian Affairs - Pauline Sukhai, and Wakapau Toshao Lloyd Pereira attend the launch of the Wakapau Cell Site, the firstever solar-powered cell site in Guyana, a communications solution being used for sites in remote areas.

an area of competition because of the number of Guyanese living overseas. At the moment, traffic going in and out of the country has to go through GT&T.” Since 1990, GT&T has been 80 percent owned by Atlantic Tele-Network. But last year — in anticipation of the coming liberalization — the state sold its 20 percent share in GT&T to China’s Datang Telecom Technology and Industry Group for a reported $25 million. Gail Teixeira, President Donald Ramotar’s advisor on governance, said the telecom sector and its de-monopolization remains a critical component of Guyana’s national agenda. “We are looking at opening up the sector fully,” Teixeira recently told reporters. “We are talking about liberalizing the sector to allow for any other company that wishes to enter the Guyanese market to come on board.”

Since we’ve come in, about 150,000 people now have mobile access they never had before. Domestic calling rates have dropped by more than 50 percent, and a lot of new telecom services have come to Guyana. — Gregory Dean, chief executive officer of Digicel Guyana

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