Atlantic Tele-Network "looking seriously" at LTE

- Thursday, March 3, 2011

Atlantic Tele-Network

Atlantic Tele-Network (Nasdaq: ATNI), a US telecoms operator with assets in the Caribbean, is looking seriously at the LTE option but feels that its current data offerings are sufficiently competitive for the moment, company CEO Michael Prior said during a conference call with investors.

"We're like every carrier, I imagine, looking at it seriously. One of the questions with LTE is the mix of whether it gives you a competitive advantage or not, in terms of customer offerings. I think it's early for that, particularly in our markets," Prior said.

"The second question is the capability to handle data loads and whether it improves the overall efficiency of your network and your ability to grow data. We're looking at both of those. In our markets, I think our offering is extremely competitive on the data side today, but you obviously have to do some forward planning," he added.

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ATN operates the incumbent GT&T in Guyana as well as having operations in the US, Bermuda, Turks and Caicos and the US Virgin Islands. It also recently acquired a wireless service provider in Aruba.

Exemplary of how the popularity of data is growing, Prior said that 50% of Q4 handset sales, including upgrades in the post-paid segment, were smartphones.

"So a little bit less than a third of our base has smartphones," Prior said.

THE GUYANA SITUATION

Guyana's government has been talking for years about passing legislation to liberalize the country's telecommunications market, in which GT&T has an exclusivity agreement for all segments except mobile.

The latest news, in November, was that the state had sent a copy of the proposed telecoms liberalization bill to GT&T and Irish-owned mobile operator Digicel for comments.

On the issue, Prior said only that "we're still working with the Guyanese government to end exclusivity rights in concert with establishing a new regulatory framework and opening up additional sectors of telecom to competition."

As regards the 1,240km submarine cable system (SG-SCS) linking Suriname and Guyana that GT&T landed in January 2010, Prior said that as a result of the cable, the uptake of wireline usage and data revenues had increased, especially from large enterprises.

"It's not enough to capture some of the declines in legacy wireline, which is mostly long distance. But the uptake been very, very good and in line with our expectations," Prior said.

And with the Aruban telecoms operator - Caribbean Telecom Partners, which ATN acquired last year - Prior said the company had been building out the network and "covering the island quite well."

"It's a good business and cash-flow neutral.... We continue to strengthen our team and commitment to those [island] markets and believe that over the longer term there are still very good opportunities for ATN in the region," Prior said.