C&WC hopeful of turnaround with consumer bundles

- Tuesday, November 8, 2011

C&WC hopeful of turnaround with consumer bundles

Cable & Wireless Communications (C&WC) is optimistic that it can turn around its fortunes in the economically stumbling Caribbean by focusing on consumer bundles and enterprise services.

In the first half of its fiscal year, ended September 30, of the company's four units, three - Macau, Panama, and Monaco and the Islands - saw growth, whereas revenues in the fourth, the Caribbean region, remained flat.

Overall, the company saw a 9% rise in net profit (excluding exceptional items) to US$163mn, while overall group revenues were up 24%, to US$1.44bn.

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Since the 2008-09 financial crisis, the company has attributed its stunted growth in the region to the hard hit economy, which is highly dependent on tourism.

Besides that, the company has faced tough competition in the mobile space from Digicel and in its fixed-line business from cable provider Flow - particularly in Jamaica.

C&WC began its fight back in 2009 with a new brand, LIME (standing for landline, internet, mobile and entertainment), which represents the company's strategy to take advantage of its various networks to focus on bundled services.

C&WC CEO Tony Rice told BNamericas that the company's idea of a One Caribbean platform has helped to improve efficiency and customer service. But while there may be one platform, the Caribbean is not one economy but rather a broad range of more than 30 sovereign states and territories, each with different economies.

"The big issue with the Caribbean is the economy. The Caribbean is really many different subsets, many of which are linked to the US economy," Rice said.

For example, the Cayman Islands - a financial services center - is starting to show some growth, particularly when compared to the struggling Jamaican economy.

"What we need to do is invest our money in places where we can produce the best service and be ready for when economy turns up. And they will turn up," Rice said.

BROADBAND AND TV

While mobile revenue declined year-on-year in the fiscal first half by 3% to US$143mn, broadband and TV revenue increased 2%, to US$53mn.

Rice said LIME is focusing very much on building up a TV offering to start really marketing triple play services. The company launched mobile TV in Jamaica at the end of last year and is building up to offering triple play services in the second half of its fiscal year in Jamaica and Barbados.

On the mobile side, in May, LIME announced a strategy to invest US$80mn in upgrading its networks in 13 Caribbean markets to 3G and HSPA+ services.

HSPA+ was launched in the Cayman Islands in October, and Rice confirmed that plans are on track to introduce HSPA+ in Barbados and the Bahamas before year-end. In April this year, C&WC took a 51% stake in former Bahamian state-controlled operator BTC, and Rice said that plans to restructure the company, bringing it technologically up to speed, were coming along well.

During the first half, non-voice revenue in Barbados grew 50% compared to the prior year.

"Those networks [in Barbados and the Bahamas] are largely completed, and we'll be launching in those markets over the next few weeks, ideally before Christmas," Rice said.

With those launches, upgrades in the largest markets will be mostly done, leaving some tinkering in the smaller markets for next year.

"Then we'll see what the demand for smartphones is and what the returns are like," he said. "Effectively we'll draw a breath before we go into the next generation of technology equipment, which is LTE - which in our case is probably three years from now."

A DIVERSIFIED PORTFOLIO

Besides traditional communication, C&WC has been building up its offer of enterprise managed services and what it calls social telecoms services, where the company deploys technology for projects such as video surveillance infrastructure for police and telemedicine services. These projects have been largely deployed in Panama and other Central American countries, but the idea is to spread them throughout the Caribbean as well.

Looking a couple of years ahead, Rice said he expects C&WC's group revenue breakdown to be three-quarters consumer bundles and one-quarter social telecoms and managed services, compared to less than 20% at the moment.

While traditional fixed-line voice is steadily declining, putting it as part of a multi-play bundle will help revitalize that area, Rice said.