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Friday 13 December 2019
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A Digicel triumphant

Mark Lyndersay
Mark Lyndersay

Digicel CEO Jabbor Kayumov was cautiously triumphant at the company's media update press conference on Monday. There was a lot to boast about, but he seemed uncharacteristically reserved.

Both Kayumov and Chandrika Samaroo, Digicel's technical director, were surprisingly low-key about the company's biggest triumph in 2019, finally shaking loose additional transmission frequency from TATT.

Samaroo announced that the company had been awarded frequency in the 850MHZ spectrum on the AWS (Advanced Wireless Services) carrier band in July and licensed it in August.

According to a November 2017 Spectrum Plan published by the Telecommunications Authority (TATT), 12 MHZ of the 850MHZ spectrum was declared as "available for the provision of public mobile telecommunications services."

It's the first new transmission frequency allocation from TATT in this decade, much of which has been characterised by quiet annoyance by both TSTT and Digicel about the state's recalcitrance to allow the use of additional transmission frequency to accommodate the significant growth in mobile broadband use.

AWS is the preferred spectrum for Digicel's latest upgrade to LTE-A, an advanced version of the mobile transmission protocol. Digicel has used the additional spectrum to re-farm its bandwidth signal, increasing 3G coverage to 99 per cent nationwide, improving indoor coverage where the signal falls back from 4G because of shielding from metal and concrete infrastructure.

The company continues to provide a sliver of bandwidth for users who continue to use their EDGE 2G network.

"They just won't give up their me-too devices," Samaroo noted wryly. Digicel is also using the additional spectrum to do carrier aggregation, boosting the maximum theoretical speeds on its network to LTE-A capable devices to 190Mbps.

To prove the assertion, Samaroo ran a test, in what he assured were typical conditions, for the assembled media and registered a download speed of 181Mbps. To improve its provision of this faster bandwidth to its customers, Digicel has been mapping the actual use of its network and adding transmitters and beamforming its signal on its towers to deliver better service to the greatest number of customers.

"We looked at areas that dropped to a low of 3Mbps and have raised that minimum to 9Mbps," Samaroo said.

These "sector expansions," as the company described them, have been done over 100 sectors and have resulted in improvements in LTE capacity across 70 of its more congested sites.

Digicel plans to extend LTE-A coverage to an additional 40 high-demand sites.

"The equipment has been paid for and ordered," Samaroo said. "Once it arrives we will begin deployment."

Investments in LTE technology have cost the company $15 million since Digicel announced the availability of the service in July 2018.

The improvements have resulted in what Kayumov described as "double-digit growth," with growth in its enterprise division to corporate and government customers and home and entertainment, Digicel Play, registered ten per cent improvement for a total of 30 per cent of all homes connected to fibre.

Enterprise solutions have driven most of the gains. Digicel plans to pursue more innovations locally for eGovernment and Smart Cities projects.

Regarding 5G, the company offered an uncharacteristically passive response. Across 400,000 handsets using mobile broadband on the service, Kayumov noted that only five per cent of them were 5G capable.

"We prefer to invest in improving the network in the bandwidth allocation that meets the needs of most of our customers," the Digicel CEO said.

TSTT plans to announce availability of 5G next month.

"When it comes to 5G, it makes for a good marketing topic," Kayumov said. "When spectrum, devices and customer demand suggest a move to 5G; our network is the best prepared for it."

Mark Lyndersay is the editor of technewstt.com. An expanded version of this column can be found there.

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