Business

Blazing The Trail:

High Speed Internet service speeds up life in the Islands

By Kathy Borsuk

We all know how much the Internet has expanded and streamlined our lives. On an isolated island chain like the Turks & Caicos, its effects are magnified. Consider that as few as 25 years ago, the only way to “chat” with a friend in another country was through snail mail; while folks on other islands were contacted via VHF radio or the “coconut telegraph,” provided that confidentiality wasn’t an issue! Shopping typically meant a trip to Miami and computer, appliance and other equipment malfunctions required expensive telephone calls to solve. And without a proper library, research for an article or school project was nearly impossible. These days, the use of e-mail and the world-wide web has revolutionised business and personal communications, educational opportunities and even our social lives.

As every Internet user soon learns, the faster the speed at which data is transmitted, the better. (It’s a sad fact that our brains quickly learn to anticipate the fastest speed at which an action occurs. That’s why we’re impatient when it takes more than 30 seconds to download something that used to take weeks to arrive by mail.)

High speed Internet service was the answer, offering blazing speeds to satisfy even the most impatient user. Thanks to the foresight of local companies and the TCI government, high speed Internet service in the Turks & Caicos is at the forefront of 21st century technology, now available through phones lines and cable television connections.

Cable & Wireless ADSL
Cable & Wireless (C&W), the TCI’s sole licensed operator of telecom services, introduced high speed Internet service using ADSL (Asynchronous Digital Subscriber Line) broadband technology in March, 2003. With this state-of-the-art system, Internet access is always on and you can use your phone line at the same time, without interrupting the connection. Speeds up to 30 times faster than standard 56K dial-up modems allow you to quickly down- and upload large data files (such as photos, videos and music), rapidly transfer files between locations and send and receive e-mail in the blink of an eye.

How is this possible? According to Cable & Wireless Chief Executive Ian Kyle, “Using ADSL, your telephone line is divided in two parts. One part is used for the always-on telephone voice/fax service. The other part is connected, via your ADSL modem, directly to our switch and then on to the Internet down a dedicated set of broadband access cables.”

All Internet access, whether Dial-Up or ADSL, is routed via C&W’s purchased capacity in the ARCOS undersea fiber-optic cable, connected in the Turks & Caicos at a land station on North West Point, Providenciales. The Internet signal travels from the C&W office on Leeward Highway to North West Point via a microwave transmission link, moving on via ARCOS to Hollywood, Florida and the world-wide web.

C&W uses its regional hub in Barbados for “authentication” — i.e. checking password and log-in credentials. This routing to Barbados is also used whenever customers check their e-mail via the C&W mail server based there. Both access routes are backed up with an alternate satellite transmission option from Grand Turk. Users can also log-in to the Internet from any location with a computer, phone line and modem — such as a friend’s house or Internet cafe — using their personal account and password.

According to Ian Kyle, there has been “mass migration” from the slower Dial-Up service to their ADSL broadband option. Currently, three packages are tailored to customers’ needs, with down- and upload speeds ranging from 128K to 1,544 K down and 64K to 256 K up and including three to ten e-mail addresses and space for a web site (3 to 5 MB). Monthly fees range from $79 to $349, although, Kyle adds, “We’re constantly reviewing and improving our offerings, so look for changes in the future.”

Customers are required to purchase an ADSL modem and filter pack or splitter, available from C&W. “Best of all,” Kyle says, “We can have your existing telephone line ADSL-ready within 24 hours. It’s fairly simple to install the modem yourself or with the help of a local computer technician. We also operate a 24 hour Help Desk available by dialing 638.”

Providing comparable telecom services to all of TCI’s populated areas is a serious responsibility for C&W. To date, it has invested close to half a billion dollars in the infrastructure connecting the Islands, and annually spends a minimum of $5 million in enhancement and maintenance. Currently, ADSL is available throughout Providenciales and Grand Turk and at Bottle Creek, North Caicos, with Dial-Up service offered to these locations as well as all of the other populated islands — Pine, Parrot and Salt Cays, and North, Middle and South Caicos. ADSL service rollout is anticipated for North, Middle and South Caicos during fiscal year 2004/2005.

The Caribbean’s top telecom provider also developed a Direct Connect service to cater to corporate networks that need to have a static IP address. With Direct Connect, the electronic mailing address that the system uses to get your Internet information packets to your computer doesn’t change and can be hard-wired into computer software.

As part of their ongoing community service, C&W provides free Internet access to all government schools, often supplying the schools with computers, as well. The company also supports TCI Minister of Education Hon. Lillian Robinson-Been’s library initiative and will be donating high-speed service for Internet rooms there.

Kyle mused on future service options for ADSL high speed Internet, “We have various ideas under consideration, including pay-as-you-go cards for Internet service (now available for cell phones) and voice over the Internet options.”

To help consumers understand these and other services, C&W Public Relations Marketing Manager Rachel Harvey hosts a live talk show on WIV-Channel 4, on the second Tuesday of every month at 7:00 pm. For more information, you can also visit www.cw.tc.

While discussions with the TCI government towards liberalising the telecommunications market are ongoing, Cable & Wireless showed its commitment to the country by leasing capacity on its Internet backbone network to TCT Ltd., to enable them to bring an Internet service via cable television connections to the market.

Express High Speed Internet
In October, 2003, TCT Ltd. launched its branded Express High Speed Internet service on Providenciales, bringing a new option for Internet connections to residents. The service transmits broadband signals through a fiber optic cable backbone that had been painstakingly laid across the island by WIV Cable TV over the last 18 months.

According to General Manager Jeff Campbell, TCT’s Express service delivers blazing Internet speeds through your cable TV connection; you are always on-line and never need to worry about tying up your telephone line. And, thanks to state-of-the-art technology, you can watch TV and surf the Net at the same time without any loss of quality.

This service was made possible with a $4-$5 million investment in 150 miles of hybrid-fiber-coax (HFC) cable, which, according to TCT Ltd., has the capacity to handle down- and upload speeds as high as 10Mps, ensuring it will be more than adequate to handle future increases in transmission rates. Neighborhood “nodes” are close to everyone’s home, further ensuring speed and stability, and new nodes are easily added to the system.

With “simplifying the customer experience” a major TCT goal, Campbell says that getting on-line is painless and can be accomplished, in most cases, within 24 hours. “For our one-time installation fee of $149, a technician visits your home, adds a new cable outlet near your computer, tests and adjusts the signal levels on the line, installs the necessary software, provides you with your new cable modem (yours to keep) and makes sure everything is operational.” Problems are quickly attended to with a well-trained local technical support staff.

Jeff Campbell recently moved to Provo, but has a long history in the high speed Internet business. In 1997, he launched one of the first full residential and commercial cable modem services in North America and most recently was founder and CEO of a company that developed and supported software for high speed Internet providers around the world. Campbell actually started his first Internet service company in 1993, quipping, “We knew the Web before the Web was cool.Ó”

Campbell says, “Today, the Internet is a utility and a necessity. We firmly believe that what is important is the experience — not the technology. What you do on the Internet and what is important to you is a very personal thing. We believe in providing you with the most transparent, enjoyable Internet experience possible. We won’t confuse you with technical specifications or complex pricing. The Internet should be easy, it should be enjoyable and it should be for everyone. That’s what Express is all about.”

Express maintains its own complete network operation center on Providenciales, with all of its servers and staff located here. Calling the Help Desk means talking to a fellow resident.

Express services are symmetric, offering the same speeds for downloading and uploading. Packages currently start at 256K for $75/month, with services available at 512K and 768K. Unlike other products in the marketplace, there is no long term service contract required.

“We’re looking at some interesting new products to help bring broadband to everyone on Providenciales,” Campbell says. “Expect to see an exciting new offering in the coming months.” Campbell is tight-lipped about details, but indicates that the company is strongly committed to bringing the Internet to the widest possible audience.

Express makes free Internet connections available to school on Providenciales and is an active member of the community, sponsoring sporting events and other projects. In addition, Campbell writes about technology and communications topics for local magazines and says that the company is considering conducting free seminars for the public and launching a local computers/technology TV show. An enhanced web site is also in the works.

You can try out the Express service in the lobby of the WIV Cable offices on Leeward Highway. If you have questions, Campbell prefers to answer them directly. He says, “We’re a small, close-knit community and it is important to make yourself available to your customers. I often sit with them in the lobby to explain our service.”

With high speed Internet service now an affordable reality, TCI residents can open a new world with the click of their mouse. Viewing video clips in real time, downloading huge software programs in seconds, videoconferencing with family and friends and playing video games on-line are just a few of the possibilities.



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Marta Morton, owner/operator of Harbour Club Villas (www.harbourclubvillas.com) took this photo of the native Turks & Caicos rock iguana on Bay Cay. This endemic animal is being threatened by the invasive green iguana. See article on page 36.

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