By Wayne Chargualaf
The promise of 5G on Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands is nearly here and it promises to be a game changer. Rather than simply a matter of being able to watch Netflix with fewer lags or getting more mobile apps and games on your phone, 5G technology — if predictions hold up — will offer speeds and new services.
“It’s super exciting technology,” Roland Certeza, president and CEO of GTA, says. “They’re talking about it being the next industrial revolution.”
One of the main technological advances that 5G promises is the “internet of things” — a device’s ability to gather data, communicate and execute tasks with minimal human intervention. This results in smart devices creating a highly adaptive smart network. Although this technology already exists to a limited degree, 5G promises to expand the scope and capability of the internet of things exponentially.
Most end users will likely be introduced to the internet of things through uses such as “smart houses” — for instance, the fridge will tell your phone when you need to buy milk — but the concept has tremendous business potential for everything from warehouse inventory to manufacturing to marketing to customer service. Basically any business function could potentially be turned into an automated, adaptable system that learns and makes decisions.
For instance, if your store shelf is running low on milk, it can talk to your ordering system to order more milk. But before more milk is ordered, the network can talk to the sales and inventory systems to see which brands of milk are more popular. The network can then take that data and analyze it in context of marketing data gathered from tracking customers in the stores — their movement patterns, purchasing patterns, even the patterns of where their eyes look as they scan the shelves — and make a decision about how much of which brand to order and when. All with little to no input from a human being.
It’s believed the concept can scale all the way up to what are being called “smart cities.” The possibilities are virtually limitless.
“Having been in the industry as long as I have and seeing all the different evolutions, one thing I’ve learned is when you create new capacity and new capabilities, really smart people come up with things to do with it,” says James I. Oehlerking, CEO of PTI Pacifica Inc., which does business as IT&E. “Over time, when you create that availability, a lot of new use cases come up that people hadn’t even really thought of before.”
Docomo Pacific in March unveiled a 5G lab at its Tamuning headquarters, the company’s first such lab outside of Japan. The Docomo 5G Open Lab Guam aims to provide a 5G environment to test equipment and new concepts. All businesses and organizations are welcome to join at no cost and are invited to test and co-create 5G solutions, according to a March 27 press release.
“People talk about 5G, but there are no 5G phones in the market right now, so everybody’s waiting for when handsets are available and they’ll start to slowly launch 5G,” says Roderick A. Boss, president and CEO of Docomo Pacific.
As excited as everyone is about 5G and the internet of things, however, Certeza cautions that it will take some time for the technology to roll out and fulfill its potential.
“We’ll see what the use case is for Guam in that particular realm because 4G LTE isn’t going anywhere,” Certeza says. “In fact the vendors we speak with, they’re not investing less in it and they don’t see that technology going away.”
Boss points out that every generation lasts about 10 years. Each time a new generation of mobile technology is rolled out, every company needs to rebuild their entire network, installing new antennae across the island.
“It’s something that is increasingly difficult because of economies of scale,” Boss says. “We have a pretty small market compared to Japan or any other U.S. mainland market — they’re putting out 100,000 base stations while we’re putting out a few hundred — that puts a lot of pressure on all the carriers, I think, in having to build a new 5G network.”
As to the rest of the industry, Guam has been able to take advantage of significant improvements in infrastructure and connectivity. Over the past four years Guam has upgraded its telecom technology and services to make them comparable with products and services one would find in a major market such as the mainland United States or major Asian countries such as Japan or Korea.
“If you look at the performance of our networks here, they’re very close to high levels of global standards now,” Oehlerking says. “I think that positions Guam well for the future both for personal use and for enterprise and business development. Although we’re in the middle of the Pacific, we’ve got more than 18 undersea cables that come in and out, so we’ve got great interconnectivity.”
Certeza says that there are parties looking at Guam as a landing point for new cables because of growth in cloud computing and how that ties into the types of data center strategies implemented by companies such as Google and Amazon.
“Cloud computing is exploding everywhere and it relates to Guam in that all the new cables that are planned for Guam are riding on that,” he says.
Aside from the promise of 5G and cloud computing, Guam’s telecom industry retains much of its unique — and somewhat unforgiving — character.
“It’s highly competitive,” Boss says. “If you go to other markets this size, you typically have about two operators. To have four mobile operators on an island this size, it’s pretty unusual.”
Boss says that the ultra-competitive Guam market means that carriers have to compete on everything — from network coverage and speed to customer service.
“That’s great for consumers in Guam because that competition means you get the best rates,” he says.
As tough as Guam’s telecom market can be, however, all are excited for the future.
“The industry in general is at a very exciting, dynamic point,” Oehlerking says.
Telecom in the past year
The telecom industry is always in flux, and the industry in Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands is no different. Guam in particular is a fierce market, with three major carriers vying for a market size that in most places only supports half that many. In the past year, a number of significant events impacted the industry that keeps people in Guam and the NMI connected to each other and the world.
- Publicly opened new Docomo Pacific headquarters in Tamuning on March 15, 2018
- Appointed Roderick A. Boss as president and CEO with an announcement to the public in an April 11, 2018 release
- Sponsored the Pacific Islands Telecommunications Association’s 22nd Annual General Meeting and Tradeshow on April 24, 2018 at the Hyatt Regency Guam. The event, with the theme of “Unlocking and Securing Digital Lifestyles in a Connected Pacific,” welcomed more than 250 registrants from more than 100 companies and organizations in the Pacific and abroad. Representatives from companies such as Nokia, Facebook, Epsilon Telecommunications, Huawei and Alepo attended. The weeklong event included formal conferences and meetings, networking events, training and technical tours, and a tradeshow with technological displays.
- Unveiled the Docomo 5G Open Lab Guam on March 27, 2019
- Continued to offer and enhance services from its data center to on- and off-island companies, which it has done for more than a decade. Data centers allow companies to outsource servers and maintenance, which helps reduce costs and workload of staff. Even as cloud storage has become more popular, many businesses say that they’d feel more confidence and have greater peace of mind if their data was stored on-island, rather than in a cloud-based server located in the mainland United States.
- Appointed Roland Certeza as president and CEO with an announcement to the public in an Aug. 2, 2018 release
Pacific Telecom Inc., which does business as IT&E
- Rebranded on April 25, 2018 with a new tagline and visual identity, new products, a new device payment plan and unlimited 4G LTE data as a permanent offering
- Established a new relationship with Korean telecom giant SK Telecom on Sept. 17, 2018 and formalized its relationship with Apple to become an authorized Apple Reseller. SK Telecom is a major player in the development of 5G technology and IT&E aims to leverage that relationship to roll out 5G to the Mariana Islands. As an authorized Apple Reseller, IT&E will be able to provide better service to its iPhone subscribers.
- Appointed Jay R. Shedd as senior director of sales and marketing for Guam and the NMI in late 2018. Shedd is new to the position but no stranger to the island or the industry, having worked more than 30 years in telecom.
- Announced on March 4, 2019 the launch of managed WiFi services — a complete, end-to-end carrier-grade WiFi service for businesses that is managed 24/7