People Connecting

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islandcom-staffMobile service provider Islandcom exclusively serves TCI.
By Kathy Borsuk ~ Photos By Steve Passmore, Provo Pictures

Folks in the Turks & Caicos Islands love their phones. Whether walking down the street, shopping, working out, getting a haircut or (gulp!) even driving, there’s often a cell phone pressed to ear. Ring tones blare from pockets and purses in any group setting.
I think it has something to do with the old “Coconut Telegraph” which, before the days of telephone service, was the word-of-mouth system in which news (and gossip) travelled across the country in hours! Cell phones simply make the process faster and easier. In fact, it’s been reported that phone penetration in the TCI is about 150% (counting infants, children and the elderly), which comes out to about two phones per adult!
Since deregulation of the telecommunications industry in 2006, several companies have entered the marketplace to offer competitive cellular or Internet service. What follows is the David and Goliath story of one of those companies, home-grown Islandcom.

For over 100 years, British behemoth Cable & Wireless Ltd. (now LIME) was the sole telecommunications provider in the Turks & Caicos Islands. The pan-Caribbean company had built and maintained the TCI’s communications system from the ground up, taking it from land lines and specialized business services to state-of-the-art mobile and Internet technologies so that the Islands were always on the cutting edge of communications.
In the spirit of liberalization, in 2003 the TCI Government created a Telecommunications Commission which worked over a period of several years to deregulate the industry. It was during this time (2004) that Caesar Campbell and his mother-in-law and Salt Cay native Sandra Garland began to dream. Sandra recalls, “Caesar planted the idea in my head of starting up a ‘homegrown’ telephone company. We would focus exclusively on serving the TCI market, management would be based in the country, and we would be very flexible and capable of meeting the specific needs of the local community. The more I thought about it, the more enthusiastic I became.”
TCI resident James Golob shared their enthusiasm. With decades of international experience in the industry, Mr. Golob believed that with the right investors and resource people, such a company could be competitive in the local marketplace. He became the first director and Islandcom Telecommunications was born. Managing Director Sandra Garland, a well-known local businesswoman, applied for their telecommunications license.
After long months of discussions by government to put the proper legal structures in place, in 2006 Islandcom was finally awarded a license to offer mobile phone service in the Turks & Caicos Islands. However, there was a lot of work to do before the first customers could start to use the assigned 431-, 432-, 441- and 442- numbers to start to talk! Chris Taylor, a telecommunications professional with 10 years of experience in the Americas and an associate of the investors, joined Islandcom as CEO to pilot the infant company into the market. Chris explains, “The first thing we did was install the local network infrastructure — everything from switching to information systems and base stations. Because we did not want to mar the beautiful landscape with unnecessary duplicate towers, we leased some towers from other providers.”
The early days were a time of ironing out the “bumps in the road” of any technically complex process. A total of 16 cell sites, 8 in Providenciales alone, were set up to provide coverage across Providenciales, North, Middle and South Caicos, and Grand Turk. Retail outlets and business offices were opened in Graceway House on Providenciales and Windmills Plaza on Grand Turk. Always in mind was Islandcom’s goal of “providing world-class cellular service with the touch of a local company” and their motto of “People Connecting.” As Chris explains, “Because our customer service reps and technicians are all based in the Turks & Caicos, when a customer calls and says, ‘I dropped a call by the cemetery in the Bight’ (for instance), our on-island staff know just where the location is. This makes it much easier and quicker for Islandcom to effectively respond to our customers.”
This adaptability was put to the test after Hurricane Ike struck the Turks & Caicos Islands this September. Mr. Taylor proudly reports that service was uninterrupted in Provo throughout and after the storm, and was restored in Grand Turk after two weeks. In fact, Islandcom was able to quickly replace four generators and network equipment damaged in the storm to keep things running at their Grand Turk and other sites, and also gave away 100 phones to Grand Turk residents to help them stay in touch while land lines were down in the storm’s aftermath.
Sandra says that their initial marketing has largely been by (appropriately) word of mouth. Besides the local focus, Islandcom offers significant savings on rates to North America and Europe, and a variety of service plans to make it inexpensive to keep in touch within the Islands. Both post-pay and pre-pay plans are on offer, with access to a variety of Islandcom value added services. For instance, they’ve recently launched “Unlimited inNet Calling,” where for only $15/month, iPostpay customers can call anyone within the Islandcom network and talk as long as they want, all day, every day. Also available are AnywhereMinutes, which allow subscribers to use their plan’s minutes to make local landline calls, Islandcom on-net mobile to mobile calls and international calls to the U.S., Canada and U.K. — without paying additional fees. With 250 minutes available for $35, this is quite a deal!
Mobile data services provide customers with access to mobile web and existing email accounts. Islandcom also allows subscribers to send text messages to any mobile phone around the world at the most competitive rates, with incoming messages always free. Voicemail boxes, call waiting, three-way calling and caller ID are also free.
Islandcom’s iPrepay services offer no connection fees, no credit check and no monthly bills! ITopUp Airtime Cards are readily available from dealers across the Islands.
A tour through Islandcom’s retail outlets in Graceway Plaza and Ports of Call reveals displays of the latest cell phones from Nokia, Motorola, Samsung, HTC, Sony Ericsson and Sierra. Islandcom is the exclusively launched dealer for HTC’s brand new “Google Phone,” and its latest arrival (at press time) were the Walkman Phone, Nokia E71 and HTC Touch smartphones. Special discounts on selected phones are always available and some service packages include free phones.
In October 2008, Islandcom welcomed Bermuda Digital Communications Ltd. (BDC) as their lead strategic shareholder. Chris Taylor explains this savvy move, “BDC is one of the leading telecommunications companies in Bermuda (they operate under the CellularOne brand there) and we feel they are perfect partners. BDC will greatly expand our financial resources, technical capacity and purchasing power to develop Islandcom into its full potential.” BDC CEO Kurt Eve is similarly enthusiastic, “We are glad to have this opportunity to invest in Islandcom. The company has a good network and excellent staff in place, and we plan to take this young, energetic business and help build on its success.”
As a result, Islandcom’s plans for the future include adding additional cell sites to expand wireless coverage to West Caicos, Salt Cay and Ambergris Cay as well as introducing international roaming agreements in 2009 that will allow customers to roam when they are travelling outside the country. With this in place, marketing efforts will intensify and Islandcom will be set to increase their market share, while also supporting TCI’s overall growth and development.
Currently, Islandcom operates with 17 employees, of which 80% are Belongers. Chris Taylor and Sandra Garland both agree that their goal is to eventually hand over the CEO’s reins to a Turks & Caicos Islander . . . they’re just looking for the right person.
As trailblazers in the TCI telecommunications market — taking on the “Goliaths” of the industry with a commitment to stay locally focused — Islandcom, as “David,” is not shying away from competition, but aiming high and strong.

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