Digicel CEO: we can meet fintech demands
A fibre-cable and infrastructure investment of more than $50 million is helping to ensure that technology companies being enticed to Bermuda have the high level of service they require and expect.
That’s the view of Paul Stafford, chief executive officer of Digicel Bermuda, who has spoken about the shifting expectations of customers, the roll-out of an island-wide fibre-to-the-customer network, and having a “future-proofed” capacity to meet rapidly escalating expectations.
The Bermuda Government’s drive to attract technology companies working in fields including blockchain and fintech was highlighted last month when David Burt, the Premier, told MPs that 21 fintech companies have incorporated in Bermuda.
Mr Stafford said: “As the country looks to evolve and attract more fintech and blockchain-based companies, Digicel and BTC [Bermuda Telephone Company] have the very latest world-class technology-based networks available.”
He pointed to Digicel’s LTE mobile network, the traditional BTC fibre network, and the new fibre network that Digicel has put in place during the past 18 months.
“The network we provide is unique on the island and will seek to serve the companies the Government is looking to attract. These are highly technology-based companies; they will be seeking not just high speeds, but equally, reliability, scalability, resilience and low-latency.
“With blockchain companies there is a lot of information moving around at high speeds. This is a step above a secure connection to provide a back-up service overnight. It is instant movement of data.”
Mr Stafford said Digicel had differentiated itself by providing point-to-point fibre network connections that combined low latency and high security. On top of this network, it can layer services that fintech and other emerging tech business would be looking for; an example being multicountry multiprotocol label switching — or MPLS — connections.
During an interview with Bloomberg TV in May, the Premier mentioned the fibre-to-the-home network as he extolled the island’s readiness to host blockchain and fintech companies. Mr Stafford said Digicel has kept the Government updated on its infrastructure projects and worked with it to ensure its services meet the island’s present and future requirements.
Noting progress in accelerating legislation to accommodate the new technology companies, Mr Stafford said: “We have our part to play as a major service provider on the island to help the Government’s ambitions come to fruition. We can provide the level of service that the companies the Government are looking to attract would expect.”
Hand-in-hand with the speed of technological evolution and usage is the changing expectations of customers.
“We are seeing that any degradation of service, let alone a service interruption, is simply not accepted or understood. Customers notice and comment on it.” Mr Stafford said where once customers viewed it as a novelty when they did not have their mobile or internet service disrupted or running below par, now there is an expectation that such things won’t happen — and that applies to business and residential customers. At the same time the demand for bandwidth has expanded significantly as people use more live streaming services.
“Speed is one thing, throughput is the other. There is a significantly high throughput of customers that use streaming services, particularly streaming services from overseas.
“We contain some of that by using caching services on island, but a lot of customers also use VPN services at a residential level to access overseas content that would not be otherwise available — that streams directly through. Our job is to ensure our customers can use the service for what they desire and therefore we need the capacity. The network has to be dimensioned for what we call busy-hour ‘peak time’.”
Digicel monitors demand levels and spotted a significant peak in April during the ITC World Triathlon event in Bermuda. Surprisingly, the bulk of the data usage was not people uploading photos and video of Flora Duffy’s winning performance, but was due to people downloading live streaming.
That weekend The Royal Gazette website carried live video feed of the races.
Mr Stafford said Digicel’s mobile and fibre networks have been deliberately “over-dimensioned” so they can be easily upgraded to accommodate escalating usage and demand.
“We run prediction models years in advance and our infrastructure networks are planned accordingly.”
Digicel’s fibre internet and TV service goes point-to-point without interruption — that means taking the fibre cable all the way into a customer’s home rather than switch to another technology to cover the last portion of the journey from a neighbourhood exchange point. Mr Stafford said going from fibre to copper cabling or another network type introduces degradation and a possible point of failure.
Pricing remains a hot topic for customers, especially when like-for-like comparisons are made between Bermuda and other countries. Mr Stafford said there are a variety of factors that influence pricing, among them are the high costs of operating in Bermuda and the expense of buying capacity.
“Bermuda is a very small country, it has to absorb an awful lot, so we don’t necessarily see some of the benefits of scale that can be enjoyed in other jurisdictions,” said Mr Stafford. He added: “The customer throughput of data use [in Bermuda] is without a doubt the highest in any Digicel country, and that means more capacity is required on our cables.”
He said the company aims to be as transparent and clear as possible with its pricing, and to that end has kept its available package deals to a minimum. “Our advice is always to buy a bundle as the prices are lower.”
With Digicel and BTC’s fibre network now rolled out across the island, Mr Stafford said the feedback from customers has exceeded expectations.
“We measure it across sales experience, product use and installation. The feedback has been consistently high. Customers are happy with the product, speed of internet, quality of TV picture and sales experience.”
He said of note was the quality of the installation experience for customers. Some of which was due to the experience and community knowledge of the longstanding BTC workforce, but there has also been new training, particularly in standards and “soft skills” around customer handling, neat working and clear explanations to customers about work that is being undertaken.
Even so, from time to time problems can arise. Mr Stafford said: “We have fast deployment customer care executives on scooters, so if the customer is stuck doing something or trying to understand their bill, we will send them around.
“Sometimes customers have difficulty even using the remote control. It’s important to us to assist the customer who is paying for a service. It is most important that they enjoy it.”
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