BitDepth 607 - December 18

TSTT's VP for Broadband talks about the company's plans for its new high speed Internet service.
Over the broadband rainbow

Trevor Deane, TSTT's VP for Broadband at his Port of Spain office. Photography by Mark Lyndersay.

Going into 2008, it's clear that the Internet connectivity landscape is in the midst of a welcome and overdue upheaval. Both Flow and TSTT are implementing large-scale upgrades to their infrastructure, and offering significant competitive upgrades to their broadband services and with those changes comes new problems.
"Our advertising did run ahead of our capacity to deliver," admits Trevor Deane, TSTT's VP for Broadband services, "but we were in a competitive situation and needed to make our mark with the new service. We needed to raise awareness and establish ourselves fairly quickly."
That service is Blink and along with aggressive advertising, currently offering prizes of laptop and desktop computers to customers who sign up, there is a massive behind-the-scenes change of their network systems which began in March.

System upgrades
Those changes, geared to improve the company's network hardware, include replacing cabling to some homes and the electronic switches that branch connections in communities. TSTT is also replacing longer runs of copper, now vulnerable to theft, with fibre-optic cable or shorter lengths of thinner copper cabling.
These services sound great, particularly when an enthusiastic technical overseer like Deane talks about them. MetroEthernet, for instance, a business-focused networking solution capable of delivering ten gigabit connections over fibre-optic cable is in testing at a few corporate sites.
This super fast connection will be used as an internal solution to extend the company's Internet reach into communities and will eventually link up the Caribbean island chain via Cable and Wireless to allow companies to forge faster data links with subsidiaries and partners.

By April 2008, TSTT expects to have completed 80 percent of its implementation of Blink. By the time this column is published, the company should also have announced a price cut on its older Internet service beginning in the month of December.
Despite the new capacity, hopeful EVDO customers won't be getting any options to join the company's wireless broadband service right away. Issues with the allocation of wireless frequency and a regulatory requirement to switch from the 1800mhz frequency to 1900mhz will have to be dealt with before the company offers the service to new customers.

Meanwhile, over at Flow...
Competitor Flow has been equally active, and the company allowed me a three-week trial of their premium 15 megabit service last month. The results of that were surprising.
After three weeks of hard browsing, I'm pretty sure that nobody serves data at 15 megabits, and most fast sites will peak at around 1.4 megabits for a download.
I tested two fast sites, Apple's download site, served by Akamai and Audible where I buy digital audiobooks and initiated multiple downloads. The servers delivering my data peaked at 1.8 megabits, which brought roughly 500 megabytes worth of files to my desktop in around 20 minutes.
This is going to be your experience regardless of whether you go with Flow or TSTT, and you can read more about why and what you can do about it next week's BitDepth Christmas day edition before you try to download some festive cheer.

Making a choice
For most customers, choosing one provider over another may well come down to availability in these early days of nationwide system upgrades.
I've decided to switch from TSTT to Flow because of a number of outages I've had this year which have snowballed into a stalling of Blink availability in the data sinkhole where I live. I've advised another buddy moving into Laventille to swallow his misgivings and go with TSTT because the exact opposite prevails for him.
I've also got some serious concerns about the way TSTT is handling this switch from the older HSIA system to Blink. Treating customers as if they were dealing with two different companies is an issue I tackle in greater depth in a BitDepth Extra, "My marketing plan for TSTT" on my blog

For customers still deciding about which service to patronize, remember that these are early days yet. Both Deane and Flow's Rhea Yawching acknowledge the teething problems that their services are going through, and buyers should base their broadband purchase decisions on what's right for them, right now, and decline any contract that runs for longer than a year. I believe that the two megabit packages offered by both providers are the sweet spot upgrade to the older, lame services that are fading with blessed speed into the past.
In twelve months, the broadband landscape is likely to be even more interesting than it is today after hardware is laid down and services are introduced to distinguish commodity Internet access.

Calling India
Asked about the outsourcing of TSTT's help desk service to India, Trevor Deane noted that the company's help desk was still in place but calls were "overflowing" to the outsource provider.
I noted two calls made to the help desk which entailed 30 minute wait times and some difficulty in comprehension. Deane assured me during the meeting that my experience should be the exception rather than the rule.
For the second weekend in a row, I have had no Internet access, so calling the help desk is now a Sunday evening routine.
I can report the following.

The Indian outsource provider follows the same script for troubleshooting that locals do, which isn't a good thing, because both "helpers" doggedly follow the prescribed help path in spite of the fact that I know the script as well as they do and have done everything necessary to establish that the problem isn't within my walls.
Wait times are just as long as ever. I never spoke to anyone but an Indian outsource helper in less than 30 minutes of waiting.
These help desk employees are under strict rules about chatting with customers, so "William George" could not divulge his real name and sounded surprised when I asked him about his working hours while waiting for my modem to reboot again. So chatting with the help desk employees to kill time isn't going to be happening.
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