Communications Convergence

Although some key regulatory matters remain to be determined there is little doubt that Barbados is poised for a new wave of communications convergence.

Both LIME (recently rebranded from Cable & Wireless (Barbados) Ltd) and TeleBarbados, the two full-service telecommunications service providers, and at least one broadcast firm, have applied to provide IP TV service. If approved this could further enhance the wide range of services available to Barbadians and visitors alike.

Broadcasting and Telecommunications have in the past been regarded as separate and distinct services and separate regulators were established to oversee their operations. With the advent of the Internet and growth in access in Barbados from around the mid-90’s, plus the acceleration in competition, the lines have become blurred.  While the explosion of Internet technology has led to just about every citizen being able to receive streamed movies and other entertainment, download entertainment, even set up un-regulated broadcast services using their bandwidth capacity, outdated laws have left broadcast authorities with a decision: to regulate or not to regulate IP TV.

This service could be a boon for the island’s main hard currency sector, tourism, as well as Barbadian citizens who would be able to watch movies and other types of entertainment when they want.

The award of IP TV licences would also allow the communications providers to offer Triple Play or even Quadruple Play, whereby a bundle of services could be offered –  three or four – as a single package. These could be television, Internet and voice services. This is a feature in developed countries and has been emerging in developing countries.

The announcement that Digicel will be launching 4G wireless broadband in Jamaica next year sends a signal that Barbados could be one of the early Caribbean countries to follow on its launch list. Wide-area broadband at very competitive speeds and affordable rates is the promise Digicel is making in the Jamaican market. It is unclear whether Digicel in Barbados has acquired the spectrum it needs to follow suit.

Sunbeach Communication Inc. has announced it is investing US$ 20 million in a GSM UMTS 3rd Generation (3G) cellular service in Barbados. Sunbeach also offers Internet services.

The launch of any wireless broadband service would add to the competitive landscape with the potential for further benefits to consumers, business and government alike.

In the meantime TeleBarbados is pressing on with its domestic fiber optic ring around the island, upgrading of its wireless communication technology and an alternative residential wireless telephone service.

The availability of technology solution providers such as IP Telephony from companies such as ICL Fujitsu, ILLUMINAT Barbados, IBM and other companies means there also several options for competitive bids.

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