Jamaica's smallest mobile operator, LIME, has announced the upgrade of its network to HSPA+ technology on its network, offering mobile data download speeds up to 21Mbps. The announcement came just as the Spectrum Management Authority abandoned plans to auction 700MHz frequencies for LTE purposes. BMI believes the network upgrade is intended to be a cost effective stop gap measure before the company seeks spectrum for 4G services.
LIME's only rival, pan-Caribbean operator Digicel, already offers '4G' broadband services on its network. However, the company does not specify the technology used nor the speeds offered on its network but has been referring to its mobile broadband service as '4G' since its launch in August 2010, operating on WiMAX technology. While true LTE 4G services offer theoretical speeds up to 100Mbps, BMI believes that neither of Jamaica's operators has services with these speeds. Upgrading its network to 21Mbps, therefore, should see LIME remain competitive with its much larger rival.
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3G and 4G take-up in Jamaica has been fairly limited with under 10% of subscribers using mobile data services at the end of 2012. BMI expects roll outs of new networks will encourage greater growth, as well as the improving prices for 3G-compatible handsets that will allow more subscribers to enter the market. Given the lack of LTE in Jamaica LIME's roll out makes sense allowing it to capitalise on the growing interest in mobile data and content and improve revenues.
LIME has a battle on its hands to compete with Digicel as the latter holds around 80% market share. Improving its network to offer faster data speeds should be a popular strategy as BMI notes consumers are increasingly aware of having data access on their mobile handsets. However, the decision not to participate in the 700MHz auction - spectrum particularly suited to rolling out LTE technology - suggests that subscribers will not see high-speed mobile data transfer speeds for some time, allowing the operators to capitalise on their existing network expenditures.
The lack of bidding in the 700MHz auction also delayed the chances of introducing any additional competition into the market. While no new competition serves LIME to some extent, BMI believes the concentration of mobile access in the hands of one operator does not bode well for long term market developments.