By Joy White
Today, a business’s forms of communications — landline phones, computers, mobile phones and even copy machines — are linked through wireless connections. Businesses use the Internet and mobile devices to interact with customers, vendors and business partners, as well as for in-house operations, including processing payments and tracking inventory.
“Technology plays a big role in business productivity and the success of their business, so [business owners] are getting more knowledgeable,” says James Oehlerking, CEO of PTI Pacifica Inc., which does business as IT&E.
Guam’s telecom industry and market
Guam boasts a robust telecommunications industry to meet consumers’ needs. Competition ensures that services are affordable and that products and infrastructure are current.
“Guam is very interesting because for an island of 170,000 people, it has a very well-connected location in the number of fiber optic cables coming in and in the level and type of services available to consumers on the island in a nonurban environment,” says Andrew M. Gayle Jr., chief operating officer of GTA. “Competition is what drives the capability, and the market supported it [to include] military, tourism and local organic growth.”
In response to customer demand, local telecom companies are finding a broad range of solutions and improving infrastructure to offer more data bandwidth for higher speeds, all of which not only keep Guam’s telecommunications current in an ever-evolving technology age, but also set up the island and its businesses for economic success.
What businesses want
Telecom companies on Guam maintain close relationships with business customers and other consumers to keep them informed and often tailor services to their needs.
Many take on a consultative relationship. For Oehlerking, the bottom line is the end-user experience, as many consumers are not particularly interested in the enabling technology.
“If we look at their overall business requirements and if we see areas where they can make improvements and we see what’s coming in the future, we try to help them position to capitalize on it when it comes,” he says.
Across the board, telecom companies report that the needs of businesses include faster, streamlined, more reliable and more affordable wireless services.
“Businesses are really asking for simplifying and converging data and systems and more and more bandwidth [and for telecom companies to] provide more at a price that will fit their business model,” Gayle says.
Jonathan Kriegel, CEO of Docomo Pacific, says conversations with the company’s business clients show a demand for reliability and redundancy during disasters, tentative interest in hosted and cloud services and an all-around need for value.
More and more businesses are expressing interest in hosted services, in which a third party maintains their network. “A number of businesses have tried cloud services with some of the main providers on the mainland and have been frustrated by the service experience there,” Kriegel says. As a result, Docomo Pacific has been looking to leverage services offered by sister communication companies to possibly provide a solution in which the cloud services are hosted on Guam.
For GTA, hosted services are becoming more in demand among businesses, but businesses want different levels of managing the service, Gayle says.
Still a need for niche services
The telecommunications industry also offers niche products and services to cater to businesses’ specific needs.
iConnect caters to a niche market in providing products and services that are industry specific. While the company makes strides in keeping up with mainstream technology and demands, such as offering LTE service and devices, Push-To-Talk services and devices use an IDEN network continue to be a major product.
Emergency responders and local and government agencies, in addition to construction companies, still find use for Push-To-Talk services and devices. “That has been our main loyal customer base because they have found, even up until now, they still cannot seem to depart [from two-way radio communication]. Even with the availability of smart phones, they still use radios,” says Rene C. Lao, chief financial officer of ChoicePhone LLC, which does business as iConnect.
In addition to LTE services and devices, the company offers products such as wireless landlines — phone handsets working of the LTE network; vehicle or asset trackers; VOIP phones, which allow companies to take their landlines and phone numbers with them to Asia; mobile routers; and wireless CCTV cameras. The products are industry-specific for construction companies setting up temporary field offices; or construction companies, couriers and transportation services in need of tracking company vehicles.
“Each product has a particular need we can address,” Lao says.
While wireless is the obvious trend, the fixed side of telecommunications still plays a critical role in business operations. GTA and Docomo Pacific both offer landline services.
Pacific Data Systems provides products and services for large companies, as well as government agencies that need robust landline phone systems to field customer calls.
The company’s customers include government and education entities — the Judiciary of Guam, Guam Community College, Guam Department of Education, Guam Power Authority, Guam Waterworks Authority and Port Authority of Guam — and those in the private sector, including Bank of Hawaii, Coast360 Federal Credit Union, J&G Enterprises, Calvo Enterprises and Personal Finance Center.
And while he admits the wireless side of telecommunications is more dynamic, John Day, president and chief operation officer of Pacific Data Systems, says the fixed side has seen its own advancements to support businesses’ wireless needs.
Today, office phone systems are integrated with mobile systems. Employees could have a digital presence phone system where they have an extension number that connects to their mobile phone.
“[Private Branch Exchange phone] systems continue to be very important to companies, but the end-user device is changing. It’s becoming less static in nature to something that’s more mobile and dynamic. And so the software supports them,” Day says.
“Traditionally it used to be that your workplace was your office, and that was where you conducted work. With the Internet that’s different now. Literally your workplace is 24/7, and you need the mobility tools that are going to allow you to be supported, regardless of where you are,” he says.
Moves to meet demand
To meet the increasing consumer needs for higher speed data, Guam’s telecom companies work to improve infrastructure, including installing fiber optic cable underground, which provides a faster and more reliable connection with more capacity.
Telecom companies, including GTA and Docomo Pacific, continue to expand fiber-optic networks underground and into buildings. Docomo Pacific is building up its wireless network to double the number of Wi-Fi and LTE locations by this year.
GTA launched different LTE frequencies, which will allow the network to penetrate into buildings better in order to reach devices.
IT&E also has plans to improve its network infrastructure, increase its coverage areas, bandwidth and overall data speed capabilities. IT&E will be consolidating and upgrading its networks on Guam and Saipan. It will be decommissioning its CDMA network and using the CDMA spectrum to double speeds on the LTE network.
“[The CDMA network] is something that served us well for a lot of years, but the drive is for faster data communications,” Oehlerking says.
Late last year, IT&E signed a five-year technology agreement with Ericson that “really provided a leading edge road map for IT&E over the next five years to keep us at the forefront of wireless services for Guam,” Oehlerking says.
In addition, network survivability in the NMI is a major goal of IT&E. The company will be replacing existing battery-backup and adding generators for the network and beefing up the capability of its microwave network, which is a backup for the undersea cable.
IT&E has an ongoing road map for improvements to the NMI, including the doubling of DSL Internet speed.
iConnect continues to increase its LTE coverage, particularly in the south. “Expansion and covering up weaker spots is always an ongoing project,” Lao says.
A telecom-driven economy
Guam’s economy stands to benefit from increased connectivity.
“What you’re seeing is a tightening of telecommunications capabilities between markets like the U.S. and Japan, which have always been traditional leaders, and the other markets. The performance of Guam’s networks is coming much more in line with mainstream U.S. offerings and I think you’ll see it get closer to parity over time. And the good news with that is it’s a stimulus for economic growth. The better the island’s communications and capabilities, the more it’s an attraction for business. It improves employee productivity, so I think the direction that telecommunications will have significant benefits across the whole economic environment in Guam and Saipan,” Oehlerking says.
Job creation is one area that could benefit. Companies such as Docomo Pacific and GTA are working with Guam’s high schools, middle schools and the University of Guam to develop STEM programs. By having more IT trained professionals, the standard will be set higher for cutting age solutions that can be done locally and for lower cost.
“As more and more of these submarine cables transit the island, I think there will be an increasing demand for these kinds of high-quality IT jobs and professionals. And I think that’s a great opportunity for Guam to create a third leg to its economic stool,” Kriegel says.
The future of telecommunications
The telecom industry globally is always growing, and Guam is part of the trend. The Northern Mariana Islands will also take part in telecommunications growth.
Guam is also poised to become a hub for international telecommunications.
One of GTA’s major projects is an undersea cable connecting eastern Indonesia and the Philippines to the U.S., with Guam as landing station. GTA serves as the landing party and will construct and operate the landing station in Piti. As a member of the consortium, GTA is entitled to a certain amount of the cable’s capacity.
“The main benefit is more capacity to the island, and more capacity means faster speeds at prices that are going to meet the budgets of businesses,” Gayle says.
The future of telecommunications and technology points to more connectivity. Lao says residents will see a lot more wireless applications, such as smart phone applications to control appliances, as part of the global trend. “During this period a lot of advancements rotate around the application of high-speed connection. If you look at the telecom world, they call it an Internet of things,” he says. This includes more appliances and devices being operated by wireless connection.
“[Fifth generation technology, or 5G,] is going to come, and there will be a role for it on Guam, and we’ll just make sure we’re keeping abreast of the technology as well as the market requirements. When it’s a good fit for the needs and the price points [are affordable], we’ll be introducing that on Guam,” Oehlerking says.
Many in the industry see the growth in the telecom industry in the Pacific region as well. Docomo Pacific is looking to establish a second undersea cable to the NMI, which would allow the company to offer its full range of services to businesses and customers in the CNMI. If the submarine cable is completed, Docomo Pacific will also look to launch an LTE network.
Telecom experts see the NMI catching up to Guam and the rest of the world.
“The CNMI, I think, is going to see more connectivity from an undersea perspective. And it’s going to come in two forms: from Saipan to the rest of the world, and in Saipan itself you’re going to see the incumbent carriers there are going to build out their networks,” Gayle says.
GTA has expressed interest in establishing a presence in Saipan in the past; however, efforts have been put on hold in light of the company’s other recent projects.
“I also see the same thing for Palau and Yap,” Gayle says. Palau and Yap, whose telecommunications come through satellite, are expected to be on board with the undersea cable project in discussion.