BitDepth 585 - July 17

Flow lands their own broadband connection at Macueripe...
Bringing broadband into Flow

Gordon Jones, Project Manager for Columbus, juggles two cell phones and a radio as he works to coordinate the paperwork that would allow cable from the Tyco Reliance, far in the distance near the mouth of Macueripe Bay to make landfall. The cable would eventually be laid the next day, on June 04. Photograph by Mark Lyndersay.

It's been a year since this column last caught up with Rhea Yawching, Director, Sales, Marketing and Communications for Columbus Communications, and things have certainly improved since she reluctantly posed for a picture in front of a network panel in a musty corner of the company's old offices.
Columbus is now in a spiffy new glass panelled building with a great view of Victoria Square and the cable company is putting a finishing polish on both its new premises and its new model of Internet communications.
"2007 was our year of rebuilding the infrastructure, dealing with the core IP network," says Ian Serrao, Columbus' Director of Network Services. "Soon we will begin upgrading the packages we offer and let's just say for now that we don't think that 512k or 1MB is true broadband."
A year ago, Columbus was talking about their plans to rebuild the ageing cable network in Trinidad and Tobago and had frozen residential Internet accounts.
The company switched from satellite based VSAT Internet connections to sub-leasing bandwidth from TSTT for those Internet customers who stuck with the service. 

Only recently has Columbus begun offering broadband Internet connections to residential customers again, with a mix of timed, but cost-effective plans that compete well with dial-up options and a trio of unlimited packages that range from a 512k download service that's priced to compete with TSTT's base package at $391 to a 2MB download package that will set you back just shy of $1200 per month.
Two weeks ago, a group of concerned technicians from Flow, a massive cable laying ship and support vessels floating in Macueripe Bay were waiting around for paperwork that would allow cable from the main ship in the mouth of the bay to begin releasing a cable drop. That would eventually be towed across 980 km of undersea terrain to Curacao to connect with the Arcos-1, a Caribbean link to the Internet backbone that will allow Columbus to switch its Internet service to a much faster access point.

Activation of that link is set for late October and when the system goes live existing customers will be upgraded to higher bandwidth at no charge.
"We plan to double existing bandwidth at minimum," says Serrao.
That bigger pipeline will run on a very different infrastructure to the one that Columbus bought two years ago. Network nodes, the branch points for cable signals, would have dropped in density from 3,000 users per node to 100, and a system that was once supported by 114 network nodes now has 527, with 50 nodes added each month.

This capacity isn't for show or bragging rights. The next stage of the Flow expansion is the goodies, the applications and services that the cable company plans to introduce on its broadband network that match services in the most developed and network ready nations.
The room falls silent when I ask about what users can expect, but at least one of the services is no secret. Flow will be adding Voice over IP telephone services as a matter of priority, and it has an interconnection agreement with TSTT to enable it. 

The company expects its rivals to deliver products that will compete with its enhanced offerings at year's end, but it's biggest challenge will come from its customers, who will be able to access these new data services only after the cable on their lines is upgraded to properly enable them. 
That's going to take some time, given how long it took Flow's vans to move off my street in St James and it seems likely that Columbus will need most of the five years and every cent of the one billion TT dollars it has allotted to its infrastructure upgrade to bring these new services to potential customers in Trinidad and Tobago.

Potential customers will get more flexible packages for their Internet access, choosing from the kind of a la carte product mix that is being offered on the Flow entertainment cable packages for customers receiving the new boxes and digital service.
I'm eyeing a sweet spot for unlimited access that drops somewhere between the firm's "Click 50" timed access and "Click Unlimited 1", a currently nonexistent unlimited package that comes with e-mail addresses and an IP address that I don't need. Price that at around $210 and I might be seriously tempted to leave my still somewhat wonky DSL service behind.
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