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Interesting, indeed. The comments on Crackberry are filled with people who were waiting it out, but have now decided to jump ship, mostly to Android.

Regarding the pricing, I see from the image that your USD50 plan gets you 1GB data plus unlimited talk and text. The USD17 here is only for the data; voice and text are priced separately. My USD40 plan gets me 165 minutes and 165 text messages, with a subsidised rate for anything exceeding that.

Jamaica has 2 mobile carriers, Digicel and LIME (formerly Cable & Wireless). How these two have competed is an absolutely fascinating look at regulation, branding and consumer behaviour .

Until 1962, Jamaica was a British colony. Hence, Cable & Wireless, a British company had a monopoly on telecommunications. Like any good capitalist knows, this led to atrocious service. I grew up in rural Jamaica, and we applied for a landline for years before we got it. C&W just didn't care, and, as Jamaican's are wont to do, we gave them our own name: "Careless & Worthless." (pronounced 'kayliss' [hard k] and 'wutliss' in Jamaican patois.)

In 2000 or 2001, the then People's National Party (PNP) government, under Technology Minister Phillip Paulwell, liberalized the telecoms sector, and granted a cellular license to the Irish-owned Digicel. Digicel launched in April 2001. 100 days later, they had 100,000 customers. Literally 1000 customers per day, in a country of population 2.8 million. (Take that, SociaLocoMobi startups :))

People flocked to Digicel. I mean, it was just amazing. Soon, people with C&W phones were few and far between. Digicel introduced GSM technology (as opposed to C&W's TDMA), per-second billing, Pay As You Go (you buy prepaid cards at retail stores, corner shops and street vendors.) They drove home their advantage with excellent marketing - they branded themselves as 'young' and 'hip' as opposed to the 'old' and 'stodgy' C&W. They sponsored football. They sponsored cricket. They sponsored track and field (They have sponsored Usain Bolt for years). Their coup de grace was the talent competition 'Rising Stars', - American Idol meets Jamaican music. It was, and is, a phenomenal success, and has launched the careers of major artists in Jamaica, such as Christopher Martin and Romain Virgo.

Digicel was, and still is mostly viewed as Jamaica's 'Mobile Messiah'. They 'saved' us from the eternal damnation of C&W.

Digicel was on top, and C&W was forced to respond.

C&W did this by upgrading to GSM in July 2003, and rebranding as 'bmobile'. For weeks, there were flyers in the shape of the power symbol on your laptop everywhere, with the cryptic message "Get ready to be switched on." No one knew what it was, until the public was invited to an event. 'Twas a huge event - airshow with stunts, the whole shebang. It signaled the start of an era where C&W would spend hundreds of millions of dollars in marketing trying, but failing, to regain market dominance. Quite simply, Jamaicans hated C&W. They replaced about 6 CEOs in a few years.

The kicker is that after this new rebranding, C&W provided better value. Calls were cheaper. Data (GPRS) was cheaper. But the public simply did not care. My older sister, for example, could not be paid to switch from Digicel, and many people share that sentiment. C&W, now bmobile, was in decline. But they would not bow out without a fight.

They rebranded as LIME (Landline, Internet, Mobile, Entertainment) in 2008, and introduced 3G. But they still could not compete, and continued to rack up losses.

But something was amiss, which was not widely known until late last year: When the telecom sector had been liberalised, the regulatory body, the OUR (Office of Utilities Regulation), had decreed that Digicel be granted favourable interconnect fees, so that C&W could not force them out by charging them exorbitant fees to connect to their network. However, Digicel was allowed to charge C&W very high interconnect fees. This was only supposed to last for a few years at most, but continued until a few weeks ago!

As a result of that disparity in interconnect fees, those with C&W phones found it very expensive to call Digicel subscribers, providing them with even more incentive to switch.

Late last year, the PNP was returned to power, and Phillip Paulwell reinstated as Technology Minister. One of the things he has done recently is to set a standard interconnect rate. LIME capitalized by slashing rates across the board, and Jamaicans rejoiced and are finally paying attention. Digicel responded by taking the OUR to court, arguing that procedure was breached. It is still before the courts, but the act has cast a negative light on Digicel. They responded a few days ago by launching the 'Sweet' plan with massively reduced call rates, but per-minute billing and reduced free offers. So the air is rife with the scent of competition, as both of them are gearing up to do battle, to the benefit of Joe Consumer.

A few days ago, when they launched the 'Sweet' plan in reaction to LIME's rate slash, they took their street team to middle of New Kingston, the business district, and had dozens of people dancing, and handing out flyers. Apparently, LIME got wind of it, and rounded up their own street team to make their presence felt. I'm told that due to the some police presence, they were not able to do so.

Very, very interesting times are head. And I'm loving it.

NB. I'm not a supporter of the PNP; but the facts are the facts - they did a better job than the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) where telecoms are concerned.




Great response, thanks for all of that context.

Sounds like the playing field was evened once the interconnect fees were standardized. It's a shame that we are so far behind in the U.S., at a very fundamental level. Most networks here (particularly the two largest -- AT&T + Verizon) are totally incompatible.

Anyway, thanks again for all that detail, very interesting stuff.


Thanks. I really enjoyed writing it.

One thing in the US that would never fly in Jamaica is being charged for incoming calls. C&W used to do that when they were the monopoly, but Digicel didn't it. If any of them tried it now, there would be riots in the streets.

Most Jamaicans are on PAYG (or prepaid) plans. As a result, we usually pay full price for phones, whereas you guys can get a high-end smartphone for $200 on a 2 year contract.

It turns out that my sister was actually at the launch of The Galaxy S3 last night! She came back ooh-ing and ahh-ing...




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