New Ways for Wireless
Over three years two Honduran internet and telecommunications companies have competed for the Bay Islands market. Tropico Telephone & Internet (TTI) and Globalnet are now both working on upgrading their services and filling in gaps in the telecommunications service..

July 1st, 2006
by Thomas Tomczyk

[private] TTI has become the first internet and telecommunications provider to provide a backbone, independent of Hondutels’ infrastructure, to Honduran subscribers in La Ceiba and Bay Islands. The company’s internet traffic passes through international fiber optic connection points, Mayan-1 and Arcos-1 before it is picked up by long distance microwave and fiber optics communications link connecting La Ceiba and Bay Islands with the rest of the world. Now the internet signal arrives in the Bay Islands after three ‘hops’ instead of the previous 6-7.

Globalnet is not far behind, but has decided on a different approach connecting Puerto Cortez and with La Ceiba not with a set of wireless stations, but by a fiber optic cable. This is a greater investment of $1.4 million versus the $500,000 the company expected to pay for a similar wireless backbone. Globalnet’s 240 kilometer long project is 50 percent complete in laying down its 240 kilometer long fiber optic cable, has just passed Tela and is expected to be ready in August. “We want to replicate the experience of internet that mainland subscribers already enjoy,” said Velasquez.

TTI has also made inroads in alleviating Honduras’ telephone communications problems. Until recently Hondutel had a monopoly as the country’s sole telephone provider. A year ago 18 licenses were granted to companies to provide telephone service through the country. TTI has become a sub operator of Hondutel issuing 470 extension phone numbers throughout its region of operations: from Tela to La Ceiba and in the Bay Islands.

Globalnet also provides telephone numbers, but mostly to large corporate clients on mainland Honduras. In August on Roatan the company will offer an alternative, or a back-up credit card service, to around 200 businesses accepting credit cards where until now Hondutel had a monopoly.

The La Ceiba based TTI has currently around 500 customers: 200 on Roatan, 150 on Utila and 8 on Cayos Cochinos. With 900 Utila Power Company (UPCO) costumers, Utila has the highest market 17% market density. TTI expects continued growth in subscribers of 50% to 60% a year.

Under the leadership Jeremy Crane, a 30-year-old CEO, in August 2004 Tropico, restructured itself into TTI (Tropico Telephone and Internet) with Lps. 20 million capitalization. “Everyone has suffered through poor reliability and limited bandwidth for years. The timing of this connection is critical to the booming tourism and manufacturing industries in this area,” said Charles Powers, president of TTI with 25 years IBM managerial experience, who recently took over as the company’s head man.

Globalnet is a bigger San Pedro Sula based national internet company that focuses on larger, mostly corporate clients with several offices throughout the country. Globalnet has currently 2,000 subscribers with 130 of them on Roatan. “We respect our competition and we think it helps us to bring a better service,” said Mario Velasquez, administrative director of Globalnet, a 1996 formed company and one of Honduras’ original telecommunications carriers.

On Roatan, a geographically remote market with many foreign businesses, Globalnet has partnered with locally known and well established Paradise Computers. The partnership has allowed the company to steadily grow its customer base and, especially in the first two years, rely on Paradise Computer’s staff for technical assistance.

Time, when affordable internet will be available to wide Bay Islands public is fast approaching. It is most likely that the local cable companies, with already existing cable networks and customers will offer the cheapest, most economical way for small customers to find affordable and fast internet connection.

TTI is seeing a continuing large growth in its Utila and especially Roatan markets. To ease connections and lessen cost to consumers a fiber optic line was laid by the company in Utila and La Ceiba. A DSL local link is already operational in Coxen Hole, French Harbour, West End and West Bay. Globalnet on the other hand is working with China based UT Starcam, to set-up a copper cable network first in Jonesville, then in West End in July.

TTI is also looking at expanding its services to include Trujillo and Tela, but on Guanaja things have been more complicated. While Globalnet has established a base of 20 subscribers on the island, TTI found Guanaja, with small size of the internet market and lack of regular transport to the island, a difficult place to provide wireless service.

Ten months ago on Roatan an alternative to TTI and Globalnet networks came on the market. In more remote locations customers can now choose from two direct satellite connections: VSat and DirecWay, installed by Paradise Computers. This dish technology that connects customers directly to the satellite has already attracted two dozen subscribers. While 20 chose the more expensive VSat option that allows for stable Voice/IP connection at an initial cost of around $3,500, a handful of others opted for the more economical, $1,600 DirecWay package. This internet option is typically considered an alternative for individual customers, not large business requiring wide bandwidth and short delays in signal.

Both companies stay conscious of its public image and try to give back to the community they work in. TTI has sponsored a La Ceiba bike race “Conquesta de Cangrejal” and provided free internet services at the 2005 Roatan Shrimp Festival, while Globalnet is providing a free internet service at Nurse Peggy’s Clinica Esperanza and is looking for another two-three non-profit and community oriented projects to sponsor. “We are not just about making profit. We are a socially conscious company,” said Velasquez. [/private]

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