PHILIPSBURG–United Telecommunication Services (UTS) will be focusing its efforts on marketing and increasing its sales in the New Year as well as continuing its efforts to expand its products and services.
UTS has already started to diversify into new markets with the recent launch of its UTS Secure Vehicle Protection services to car rental companies, who will be able to monitor their entire fleet through one simple portal. The service allows companies to monitor the driving behaviour, navigation, trip playback and history, maintenance and fuel tracking, real time location tracking and remote engine shutdown of their vehicles.
Venturing into new products and services is necessary as voice services have plummeted to some 35 per cent over the years, UTS Eastern Caribbean Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Glen Carty said on Monday. The Eastern Caribbean Part of UTS, he made clear is profitable and has been over the past years, however, voice services has dropped significantly and demand for data is increasing.
Carty said 2016 has been a year of investment and construction with UTS building its infrastructure and developing its network to better serve consumers. UTS invested and introduced several products this year.
During the latter half of 2015, UTS launched the country’s first 4G LTE Network connecting consumers to their world via 20 4G LTE cell sites throughout the country. LTE or Long-Term Evolution has become the fastest developing mobile communications technology ever. LTE is commonly marketed as 4G LTE, which is a standard for wireless communication of high-speed data for mobile phones and data terminals. The LTE network is an investment of approximately US $15 million ensuring UTS customers access to higher speed and quality data service for years to come.
Carty said UTS started its operations with a 2G network in 2003, and up to 2011 this was sufficient based on customers’ demand for connectivity at that time. In line with the international trend of the increasingly data-hungry consumer, the demand for increased data speeds outgrew the current network capabilities, calling for a redesign of technologies and operations.
The Dutch side of the island now has a fully functional 4G LTE network, which has seen an expansion of its sites in 2016 from 20 to 28, with a further increase to 30 sites soon. The capacity usage and coverage will continually be monitored to ensure optimal network performance and service to the customer.
In St. Eustatius phase 1 of the 4G LTE network implementation is completed and LTE went live on December 5. In Saba the 4G LTE network has also been completed and will go live on December 20. With respect to mobile service in French St. Martin and in St Barths, UTS is in discussion with French telecommunication authorities and others concerning upgrading to the LTE spectrum. In the meantime a fully functional 3G/ 4G LTE network has already been built.
For the St. Kitts and Nevis markets, UTS will be restructuring its presence by seeking a partner to continue its presence on those islands and the continuation of the Chippie land concept. This concept ensures continued, uninterrupted mobile service on the islands of St. Maarten, St. Martin, Saba, St. Eustatius, St. Kitts, Nevis, Curaçao and Bonaire. Customers can travel with their Chippie number to these islands and use their Chippie service at low local rates, avoiding high roaming charges.
With this concept, UTS also caters to the high mobility of the marine sector, providing seamless voice and data services to the marine community when travelling in the region. Designing a technical network according to the technical, financial and tax specifications of various international entities and regulators demands a lot of the mobile operator, but the goal of offering the customer seamless, uninterrupted service is the company’s primary objective.
Carty also touched on UTS’ advanced billing system. In 2016 UTS introduced a more advanced billing system – a project that has also demanded significant effort and resources due to the fact of having to deal with several telecommunication regulators, market environments and currencies: the US dollar, Euro, Eastern Caribbean Dollar and Antillean Guilder.
The new billing system allows the mobile provider an increased measure of flexibility and the ability to respond more pointedly to the needs of its customers. The first such innovation is the introduction of “bigger, better bundle plans.” These were introduced to both pre-paid and post-paid clients in St. Maarten in mid-2016, and during the month of December these plans have also become available for Saba, St. Eustatius and St. Martin.
UTS’ mobile customers can now enjoy increased savings and flexibility with the introduction of Chippie Flexible Mobile bundles. The new bundles combine the three staples of mobile service into one package: mobile internet, minutes and Short Messaging Services (SMS). This is offered on a subscription basis, but also as a pre-paid no-commitment service. The customer can choose how much or little of each component they need and can manage their bundle of service by SMS at any time.
Carty said when UTS purchased Caribserve, the latter used the Canopy I technology to provide internet service to its customers. This technology was eventually replaced by the WiMax technology which based on customers’ data consumption was sufficient to provide service. However, soon after its introduction, just as in the mobile business, the explosion of more data hungry applications and online streaming services, forced UTS to look for an enhanced technology which could provide a higher data throughput for those customers.
The company recognised the exponential growth in the data consumption of the average household user. This is the result of the increasing popularity of streamed entertainment services, such as Roku, Apple TV, Spotify, Pandora etc. This development compelled the company to expedite its further upgrading of the fixed wireless network. The company now uses the PMP450 technology, which was first introduced as a pilot project and is now in high demand amongst consumers.
Since the introduction of PMP450, UTS has seen a huge increase in application requests for the service, in spite of the fact that the service was not heavily marketed, Carty said.
“Internet is now a necessity and not a luxury as consumers make use of various data applications. Word-of-mouth and customer referrals have catapulted the demand for this product to the point that UTS now needs to contract external local contractors to carry out the many installation requests.”
This situation will continue into and throughout 2017 to keep up with customer demand. The PMP450 wireless solution offers good bandwidth at reasonable prices.
UTS is also in the process of gradually rolling out its fibre infrastructure to various parts of the island. UTS technical personnel are busy installing a fibre optic cable network for homes and businesses which will further improve the quality of service to customers. Areas partly serviced by fibre infrastructure are the Cupecoy, Simpson Bay, Cole Bay and Dawn Beach areas. Further expansion in early 2017 is planned in the Indigo Bay area and Pelican areas as well.
Various areas throughout the Dutch side of the island, especially along the main roads have fibre and UTS crews connect households and business establishments along the fibre routes. Carty said realizing fibre technology is a costly and lengthy process due to the trenching and ground works required and this process will take a number of years before everybody – homes and businesses – are connected to the fibre optic network.
In the interim the wireless PMP450 technology is a good, quick solution to provide the bandwidth desired, he said.
He said also that UTS has centralised its customer service centre and diversified the number of ways that a customer can get in contact for assistance. A new web page was launched (www.uts-ec.com) and Facebook has also become a valuable tool for information.
In early 2017 contact by phone will also be upgraded with an investment in a new automated system, designed to be more informative and customer friendly. Face-to-face contact with an agent is of course still possible at UTS stores, however, the new billing system, website and other online tools allow the customer to choose how they would like to get in touch and get the information they need.