Digicel Jamaica says it's well on the way to expanding its long-term evolution (LTE) coverage across the island to foster what the company calls “a digital lifestyle” among Jamaican.
Chandrika Samaroo, Digicel Jamaica's chief technology and innovation officer (CTIO), said the company has allocated US$200 million towards this venture and has so far improved LTE coverage to 95 per cent of its cell sites. Samaroo said Digicel's cell sites cover 99 per cent of the country and the aim is to instal LTE technology on all within the next 12 months. LTE technology enables the capacity and speed of data transmission.
Samaroo, a Trinidad and Tobago native who took up his current role at Digicel Jamaica on August 1, is charged with driving the company's expansion of its LTE footprint. He said the company has been assessing demand for LTE across the country and making investments as needed to ensure the network stays ahead of congestion.
“With the advent of COVID last year, we saw an acceleration in our customers towards the digital lifestyle. So there was a huge shift in most services towards remote access. We saw it in work, we saw it in entertainment, we saw it in schooling as well. And that, of course, puts a heavy demand on our network.”
So far, he says the company has spent more than US$70 million of the allocation before adding “the investments are not only concentrated in urban areas and will address most of the pain points we are seeing”.
“We improved LTE coverage in St Thomas... we have upgraded most of our sites in that parish,” he pointed out. Areas such as Bull Bay, Yallahs, Port Morant, Morant Bay, East St Thomas and Seaforth are all now receiving LTE service from Digicel. Samaroo also said the coverage for both voice and data on the North-South Highway has been improved as well.
“A digital lifestyle is what our citizens need to make the next step, to be able to deal with all these remote services, to keep themselves safe and to really accelerate our GDP [growth], our financial development, our economic development as a country. This investment goes way beyond Digicel giving faster data service. Our fast data in home, fast mobile data on the go and in businesses, is really just the foundation and building block for that digital economy. It is going to create jobs, it is going to help us unlock at a much faster rate, the ingenuity and creativity of our people. It will drive e-learning and delivery of the right educational content to all of our citizenry and we are excited about that. This is what we mean when we talk about enabling that digital lifestyle and we are excited to make that investment to really enable all of these elements of our citizens digital lifestyle at this moment.”
He however says that while the company is looking at 5G technology, “At this point in time, the right elements for 5G are not there yet. The handsets are very expensive, the spectrum is not yet there and all of our customers now all have a 4G enabled handset. If we were to invest in 5G, we will have a network that our customers will not be able to access at this time, without having to buy a very expensive handset.”