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Horizon ready to take on telecoms rivals

Ready to compete: Gilbert “Artie” Darrell, founder of Horizon Communications (File photograph)

Founder Gilbert “Artie” Darrell believes Horizon Communications Ltd can compete in price and service quality as it prepares to take on established telecoms market rivals.The company, backed by the Bermuda Infrastructure Fund, has been approved by the Regulatory Authority as a qualified applicant for an Integrated Communications Operating Licence and after a consultation process is in line for the green light to operate in July.If all goes to plan, Horizon plans to start offering service to customers in October and will be at full speed by early next year.Mr Darrell was confident that his start-up would be able to claim market share from incumbents.“I don’t think people are overly enthusiastic about their current providers,” Mr Darrell said. “We see people complaining about their internet experience all the time, about the service, reliability and high prices. “We want to compete on price, but also on quality of service. Bermudians don’t mind paying for service, but I think they do mind paying for a service that is subpar.”Horizon intends to deliver high-speed internet, voiceover IP and television services to homes and businesses wirelessly. Mr Darrell said: “We will come in with a new network that does not have legacy costs. The current providers employ hundreds of people to maintain their networks, laden with all the cables, wires and telephone poles that are very costly to maintain. So I think there’s great opportunity for another provider.”BIF was set up two years ago, and has attracted about $88 million in funds from sources including international companies and the Bermuda Government, to help finance infrastructure-related projects.Mr Darrell declined to reveal how much BIF had committed to Horizon, but said the capital needed to launch the network amounted to “many millions of dollars”.In June 2019, the Ministry of Finance, in an answer to a parliamentary question, said “the fund has signed a term sheet to invest up to $10 million with a start-up fixed-wireless internet provider using industry-leading technology”, without revealing the company’s name.Mr Darrell said BIF would become Horizon’s main investor, once the company had acquired the Icol. Only then will the company be in a position to import and test equipment and hire staff. Horizon has a core team of three leading its development. Mr Darrell is the founder and chief executive officer. Elizabeth Schaefer is chief operating officer. She previously held senior management positions in charge of billing and customer-care operations at CellOne, now part of One Communications.Horizon’s chief of business development is Ross Barkwell, who has 30 years of experience in telecommunications senior management, was once acting CEO of Digicel Panama, and has held senior positions in Bermuda with Digicel and One.“We have a pending roster of people we want to hire once we get our licence,” Mr Darrell said. “We envision needing about 30 employees as we ramp up over the next three years.“Every new company has the ability to be nimble and to have a technological edge. We have to keep that edge, even if we get to be much larger. You need to keep that start-up mentality while you’re growing.”Horizon, through its capital investments and hiring, can play its part in stimulating the island’s pandemic-ravaged economy, Mr Darrell said. He added: “Covid-19 has really cemented the fact that telecommunications is such a vital service. It’s important, however, for us to look out for the other industries that are really struggling: not only as a company, but as a country. It’s important that we all go out and spend money in those businesses when they’re allowed to reopen.”