By Leonard Gildarie
The world of communications has changed so rapidly. The older folks will tell you of a time using the telephone of a neighbour or someone in the village to make an overseas call. Very few people had landlines back in the 1980s. A few of the ones that had got smart and made some side money for facilitating the overseas calls.
They would call in telecoms house and book a time for a call. It could take days sometimes to make a call. Sometimes, that person in the village would display an impatience at the inconvenience. Other times, they just plain charged you a fee.
In the ‘90s, the landlines started becoming more common. I recalled in Grove, on the East Bank Demerara, where I grew up, the coming of phone lines saw prank calls. You would be jarred in the middle of the night with the shrill ringing of the phone. Your heart would pound, as you braced yourself for some bad news. When the phone rang in the middle of the night it had to be bad news. Then there would be laughter and plain abuse on the other line.
Some persons had caller identification devices. Some homeowners smartly blocked their numbers.
The early 2000s saw mobile phones gaining rapid momentum.
It was expensive when it first came to Guyana. You had to pay for receiving the calls too.
The first cell phone that I owned was a Nokia. They don’t make them like that anymore. I think the young folks call the old Nokias ‘mango pelters’- yes, it was that strong. Then flip phones came. Music, Bluetooth and the evolution of smart phone took the world by storm.
Somehow, Nokia and Blackberry faded away.
The giants were Samsung and Apple’s iPhone.
If there was ever a single device that changed the way the world operated, I daresay the mobile smart phone is the one, by any stretch of the imagination.
Today, it is one of the biggest sellers, and probable the most sought after gift.
There is a simple reason for that. A cell phone is very essential in today’s world.
As a reporter and assisting with editing at Kaieteur News, I can ill-afford to have my phone off. In fact, I have two.
It is useless without internet. It takes photos, really excellent ones too. It allows you to edit them and push them online, on social media like Facebook. I am able to check my emails, do text messages, listen to music on YouTube and even watch live sports and movies.
Recently, I was amazed. Whatsapp, one of the most popular messaging applications around, has the possibilities of conducting three-way calling.
It means, other than the internet connection, you are paying nothing for a call that involves three persons, including two in Guyana and one from overseas.
The rapid growth of the mobile industry is creating headaches for the telecoms companies.
We have two major ones in Guyana – GTT and Digicel.
GTT, owned by the US’ ATN, came in the 90s, and managed to strike a deal that gave it the monopoly on landlines, international calls and data.
Today, Guyana has passed new laws, allowing competitors to enter a highly lucrative market.
The reason is simple…competition brings out the best in all of us. It will lower prices and redound to better quality and a more range of services for customers.
Some 27 years later, Guyana should have been more advanced in its telecommunications sector.
GTT is insisting that its landline service is unprofitable. Many housing schemes and communities are without this basic service. The impacting issue from the absence of landlines, until recently, is that landlines were critical for delivering DSL internet.
However, the introduction of fibre optic lines now, allows GTT to package internet, telephony and cable television services. It has gone to places like La Parfaite Harmonie and Providence, East Bank Demerara.
Several parts of the city and on the East Bank Demerara are also connected. However, Berbice and Essequibo are complaining. The scattered outlying communities have limited services, though the main towns have mobile internet connections with possibilities of internet.
The possibilities of internet and the way it has changed life, allowing businesses, managers, politicians and other decision makers to keep on top of things, have been leading to efficiency.
My mobile phone monitors my home which is hooked up with security cameras.
But you have to have internet.
Last week, GTT hosted a press conference during which its Chief Executive Officer, Justin Nedd made some interesting disclosures. There seems not to be too much of an interest in landlines, he says. In fact, a number of persons have relinquished their landlines.
The reasons may be very simple. Many families with landlines are working. There is not much time to be home. The internet allows contact with families and friends easily.
In fact, both Whatsapp and Facebook, and other apps, allow for video calls. There is little need for landlines. My monthly bill is less than $2,000, I am told.
Looking down the line, by the time Government readies for new players, GTT would be in a good position. The new companies that will add competition will have to focus on outlying areas which have been struggling.
Indeed, Government has been moving forward with the e-Governance programme. A number of hinterland communities already have internet hooked up. I suspect that the market for the new entrants will be in these areas.
GTT has insisted that it is not afraid of competition. We welcome such sentiments.
The company is also saying that while it has the landlines and international calls monopoly on paper, the reality is that it is only on paper.
People are using the internet and its many apps to make free calls. There may be little that GTT can do, unless it wants to lock horns with advocators who are all for the wide freedom of the internet.
So we should not be too excited about the immediate benefits of liberalization. It will take a while for new companies to make their presence known and install equipment and connections.
The reality is that there is space for cheap internet.
Our population will be seeing growth here, because of migration and the oil and gas activities.
We have to be ready to provide services that are on par with the rest of the world. GTT has been around for over two decades. It has about 700 staffers. It is imperative it pushes all the buttons up its service levels.
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