~ Dauphin Telecom President/CEO reflects on company’s 20th anniversary ~
MARIGOT–Like most visionary businessmen, Dauphin Telecom Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Alain Haillant gets his ideas before anyone else, exploits vacant niches in the market, assesses the risk, puts down the money and then waits for the rewards to come in or the failure to manifest itself.
In Dauphin Telecom’s case it’s safe to say, after 20 years of serving the public in St. Martin, that starting the company was a great success and a risk well worth taking.
He keeps a low profile – unless he is on the golf course that is, or organising the company’s annual golf tournament. Or maybe it is because he is travelling, or managing his other businesses. If he is not always in view it does not mean he does not have his finger on his companies’ pulses.
Alain Haillant arrived in St. Martin in 1985 and created Cariburo: office furniture, copy Ricoh machines and PBX telephone systems. He would go on later to start the popular daily newsletter Faxinfo.
Daily Herald (DH): “What was the reason for starting Dauphin Telecom?”
Haillant: “1998 was the year of telecommunications deregulation in France and its overseas territories. At the time then there was only Saint-Martin Mobile (ECC boat phone) on the French side. So, we did an opinion survey with 600 persons and the results encouraged us to start Dauphin Telecom. There was space for more than one operator.”
DH: “What do you attribute the success of Dauphin Telecom to?”
“I attribute it to being a local operator about the size of St. Martin. As a big family of 50 staff members living in St. Martin, we can better focus on customer satisfaction. But local operator does not mean weaker. We use the same kind of equipment and sometimes more recent technology. For example, we were the first to provide ADSL [asymmetric digital subscriber line – Ed.] Internet in St. Martin in May 2003, before the historical and national operator.
“Our success is also due to the fact that all services are concentrated in the same place; the boutique to receive customers and present our products, technical department, billing, after-sales service, customer relations, management and shareholders who are 100 per cent resident in St. Martin. When a customer wants an answer or a problem to be fixed, our response is immediate. We listen, and we are close to the population, their needs and expectations.
“But I cannot forget that our success is also due to our 15-year partnership with TelCell which allows our mobile customers to have coverage in St. Maarten and vice-versa. We will always keep this cooperation strong for the benefit of our users.”
DH: “What have been the biggest challenges you faced during the 20 years?”
“Three major challenges. 1) Lenny in 1999, six months after launching our first mobile network. The day after we had to go into the field to rebuild our network and restart the services. 2) The abuse of dominant position of the national operator. 3) Irma and the huge damage she did to our network and ‘family’ lives. But our ‘family’ members worked hard and a few days later 80 per cent of coverage was back. Today, 14 months later, our coverage is 120 per cent larger than before September 6, 2017, in particular the 4G/LTE high speed mobile internet standard.”
DH: “What has been your most satisfying moment in those 20 years.”
“There have been many, but the recent one that comes to my mind now is when President Macron said at a press conference in the Collectivité when he came here a few days after Irma, that he was only seeing Dauphin Telecom staff working in the field [to re-establish telecommunication], a recognition that directly touched all our hearts and lifted our spirits.”
DH: “How much of the French side does Dauphin Telecom cover with mobile, fixed, and Internet?”
“Our mobile signal covers 100 per cent of the population, and we cover 80 per cent of the territory for Internet and fixed lines (voice over Internet protocol) thanks to our proper large fibre network and thanks to wireless 4G/LTE fixed frequencies. Those frequencies were urgently allocated by the French regulator after Irma to compensate for the destruction of telephones lines.
DH: “How badly was the company affected by Hurricane Irma?”
“All of our 24 mobile base stations in St. Martin, and 10 in St. Barthélémy were down. We lost of lot of equipment, but gained more courage, solidarity and determination. Our main boutique in Marigot resisted Irma, but was broken into by looters and products were stolen, like many other businesses.
“This delayed the restart of our activity and possibility for our 12,000 subscribers to communicate and, by extension, delayed a big part of the island reconstruction by at least three weeks. This must never happen again.”
DH: “How do you see Dauphin Telecom evolving in the next five years, 10 years?”
“We will continue to be the local operator strongly anchored in St. Martin and St. Barthélémy, reacting fast to customer concerns and always ready to provide latest technology ‘à la pointe’ to our community.
“When 5G licences will be available, we want to be the first to provide this new high-speed Internet technology to the community. And, of course, we will continue to develop our fibre-optic network, the most extensive in St. Martin, to provide high-speed Internet, underground and hurricane proof.”