Three’s a crowd? Can Caribbean countries move from telecoms duopolies?

Whilst many Caribbean countries aspire to have three or more telecoms network operators, similar to politics and having two main political parties, most countries cannot get beyond having two carriers. Can Caribbean countries move from telecoms duopolies?

Over a week ago, news reports started to emerge in Jamaica that a “mobile spectrum licence” had been awarded to Symbiote Investments Ltd, the first fully Jamaican-owned telecom company  (Source: Jamaica Observer). Symbiote Investments Ltd, which intends to do business under the name, Caricel, is reported to have paid USD 20.8 million for a radio frequency spectrum licence through which it intends to deliver mobile broadband service using LTE (Long Term Evolution) technology (Source: TeleGeography).

The Minister for Science, Energy and Technology in Jamaica, Dr Andrew Wheatley, welcomed the prospect of a third mobile/cellular operator in the market,  “as the increased choice will empower the consumer and force greater innovation from the sector” (Source  Jamaica Observer). However, in Jamaica, as has occurred in several Caribbean countries, at various points in recent history, there have been three or more mobile/cellular operators, but invariably, they eventually dwindle down to two.

Currently, and across the Caribbean, most countries tend to have two main mobile/cellular carriers: typically, Flow and Digicel. There are exceptions, for example, the Bahamas, which still has one carrier (but a licence for a second carrier was recently issued), and Aruba, Antigua and Barbuda, and Grenada that each have three. However, that third mobile/cellular carrier, when it exists, usually has a considerably smaller market share than the other two players in the market, and more importantly, the sense of competition tends to be between the two main players.

Can a third (or fourth) player be successful?

Ideally, having three or more network carriers in a specific market, with somewhat equal market share, is desired.  The majority of Caribbean countries are plagued with, among other things; relatively small populations sizes; high penetration of mobile/cellular service and maturing markets; and well established duopolies, all of which tend to limit the greenfield opportunities that now exist.