Trinidad and Tobago positions itself as regional centre for ICT and business process outsourcing

Drawing on its potential as a services outsourcing centre, Trinidad and Tobago’s ICT sector remains a key contributor to the islands’ economy. In 2018 the telecommunications and broadcasting sector contributed around 3.7% to GDP, according to the latest full-year data from the Telecommunications Authority of T&T (TATT). Revenue was generated primarily through software development, web design, data processing and training. Looking ahead, regional headquartering, research and development (R&D), business process outsourcing (BPO) and cybersecurity remain key areas open to further development, especially as T&T seeks out private sector investment from around the globe. Adding to its prospects, T&T possesses the best ICT infrastructure in Latin America and the Caribbean, according to the TATT, and ranks second in the region in terms of skills readiness among its workers.

Coverage

The islands are served by an IP-based core network, five undersea/deepsea fibre-optic connections, and mobile coverage of 98% served by 2G, GSM and 4G networks. The advent of 5G technology is forthcoming, following a deal signed between Chinese telecoms giant Huawei and Trinbagonian service provider Telecommunications Services of T&T (TSTT).

T&T has one of the highest mobile internet coverage rates in the world. According to the TATT, in the second quarter of 2019 the number of mobile subscriptions grew by 1.6% year-on-year (y-o-y), representing a penetration rate of 152 per 100 inhabitants.

Gross mobile services revenues totalled TT$489.6m ($72,300) over that same period, with average revenue per mobile user amounting to TT$238 ($35). The mobile internet penetration rate stood at 49.2 subscriptions per 100 inhabitants, with data services now representing a considerably greater avenue for network access than fixed-line connections.

Unlike most markets, fixed-line subscriptions remain popular in T&T. As of the second quarter of 2019 the number of fixed-line subscriptions had grown by 2.7% y-o-y to 331,000, according to the TATT. There were also 328,706 fixed broadband subscriptions, although this was down 3.9% y-o-y, with a penetration rate of 24.2 per 100 inhabitants and revenue of TT$263.6m ($38,900).

Results from a worldwide internet speed test conducted in May 2019 ranked T&T 51st out of 178 countries, with upload and download speeds of 45.58 Mbps and 23.38 Mbps, respectively. On a regional level Barbados was the only Caribbean country to rank higher that T&T, with a download speed of 89.18 Mbps. However, while Trinbagonians are reasonably well connected, the cost of sending an SMS can be as much as 10 times higher than in other emerging markets. Studies are being carried out as to how prices might be lowered without impinging on the quality of service.

Regional Unity

At the CARICOM summit held in June 2019, regional integration of ICT processes and cybersecurity were high on the agenda. In February 2017 CARICOM leaders approved a roadmap for the Single ICT Space – a proposed digital stratum to be added to the CARICOM Single Market and Economy. Upon implementation, the Single ICT Space will move towards integrating regional ICT and legislative frameworks, removing roaming charges for mobile plans from Caribbean providers, encouraging digital entrepreneurship, equipping citizens with digital skills, and providing mobile and digital financial services. Future discussions on the Single ICT Space are expected to cover digital citizenship, sector linkages and guidelines for ICT in disaster risk management.

National Plan

In 2018 the government launched a five-year National ICT (NICT) plan for 2018-22, which follows the first and second NICT plans introduced in 2003 and 2014, respectively. According to the TATT, the implementation of the first NICT Plan, also known as fastforward, was responsible for a number of advancements, such as a reduction in costs, an increase in the number and quality of service providers, and the near doubling of telecoms industry revenues between 2006 and 2016. The most recent agenda aligns with Vision 2030, the government’s national development strategy, and focuses on empowering people, boosting competition in business and developing a transformational government. Targets outlined in the NICT Plan 2018-22 include increasing the ICT sector’s contribution to GDP by 5%, achieving 85% broadband access nationwide, and creating 30,000 direct jobs.

The government also hopes to rank first in the Caribbean region on the International Telecommunications Union’s ICT Development Index. In 2017 T&T ranked 11th in the Americas and fourth in the Caribbean, behind Barbados, St Kitts and Nevis, and the Bahamas.

Telecoms Companies

T&T is served by two mobile service providers, five broadband service providers and three switched voice-based service companies. TSTT is the largest telecoms provider in the country and operates one of two mobile brands, bmobile. TSTT is jointly owned by pubic investment holding company National Enterprises, which maintains a 51% stake, and London-based Liberty Global, which holds the remaining 49%. In addition, the company sells mobile handsets, fibre-optic broadband, subscription-based television packages and home alarm services. It caters to industry leaders in the financial services, energy, government, manufacturing, education, health care and tourism sectors. T&T’s other mobile service provider is global firm Digicel, which has a presence in 31 markets in the Caribbean, Central America and the Asia-Pacific region.

Both TSTT and Digicel also offer products and services to the domestic market in the data centre and cloud services segment. TSTT continues to expand its 4G-LTE network launched under the bmobile brand in 2016, while Digicel began the rollout of its 4G-LTE network at the beginning of 2018, promising eventual nationwide coverage. The two companies share some transmission infrastructure, but integration is likely to increase with the arrival of 5G.

5G Makeover

5G has been commercially available in some parts of the world since April 2019. It offers the potential to streamline business communication through its high bandwidth, and low latency, and ability to connect up to 1m devices per sq km.

However, many emerging and developed markets are still catching up with the technology on offer. In November 2019 Digicel estimated that of the 400,000 handsets using mobile broadband on its service in T&T, only around 5% were 5G-capable, with half of the population still using 3G and 2G phones.

Since 2016 TSTT has been working to transform itself into a broadband provider and build up its infrastructure to be able to handle 5G. In December 2019 TSTT announced that it had signed a deal with Huawei to introduce 5G networks to T&T in major population centres. The first phase of the 5G rollout will bring the technology to industrial estates, city centres and university campuses. Some of the areas identified for coverage include Port of Spain, San Fernando and Point Lisas. “5G will revolutionise communication,” Devindra Ramlogan, managing director at Informatics Engineering, a Tier III-Certified Data Centre, told OBG.“Given that 5G technology centres on rapid collection, storage and transfer of data, mobile network providers will shift their focus to cloud solutions, expanding data coverage and ultimately investing in data centres.”

In September 2019 Huawei donated over TT$13m ($1.9m) worth of equipment to an innovation laboratory at the University of the West Indies (UWI). The complex will be the first of its kind in the English-speaking Caribbean, spanning 1650 sq metres and potentially helping support R&D operations in T&T. Nearly half of Huawei’s employees are focused on R&D, and 12-15% of the firm’s revenue goes towards R&D every year.

Network Expansion & Upgrades

As part of T&T’s connectivity agenda, open network access has been introduced in population hotspots across the country. In December 2019 free public Wi-Fi was introduced at the Grand Stand in Queen’s Park Savannah in Port of Spain. Robert Le Hunte, the minister of public utilities, told local media at the time that the space could serve as a precursor to the capital becoming a smart city. The project involved laying 25 km of fibre-optic cables to serve 58 wireless access points with a 5MB connection. Upgrades were undertaken in partnership with Huawei, and users are granted one free 30-minute session every 24 hours, which could soon be increased to one hour. Solar panels and smart recycling systems will also accompany Wi-Fi access on the site as a pilot project. The next smart space is scheduled to be Woodford Square in Port of Spain, according to the city’s mayor, Joel Martínez.

Digicel, meanwhile, has invested more than $15m in its LTE network since July 2018, and in November 2019 announced the inauguration of its upgraded LTE Advanced (LTE-A) mobile system. The government granted Digicel additional frequency on the 850-MHz spectrum on the Advanced Wireless Services (AWS) carrier band in July 2019 – the first new frequency concession by TATT in nearly 10 years. Both TSTT and Digicel had been frustrated by the lack of movement on the part of the government to inaugurate new bandwidth to accommodate the significant expansion in mobile broadband use. AWS is the preferred frequency spectrum for Digicel’s latest upgrade to LTE-A, helping it increase 3G coverage to nearly the entire country. The additional spectrum is also being used for carrier aggregation, allowing Digicel to boost maximum speeds on its network for LTE-A-enabled devices to 190 Mbps. These expansions have resulted in improvements in capacity across some 70 sites, and plans are under way to extend LTE-A coverage to an additional 40 high-demand areas.

E-Governance

While the government has traditionally been slow to take up digital services, it is actively working to streamline bureaucracy. As of January 2020 all government entities and services were online and accessible on the portal ttConnect. According to iGovTT’s latest report, more than 3m visits were made to the ttConnect portal in 2018 and 14,074 ttConnect IDs were created. Government-run community centres also give citizens quick access to information and social services in rural areas through internet connections, ICT training, conference facilities and e-learning via free Microsoft resources. Meanwhile, ttGovChat allows citizens to speak directly with customer service representatives about the services provided by government ministries, departments and agencies via a computer or mobile device. Mobile devices can similarly be used by Trinbagonians to file tax returns, verify driving licences and register vehicles online.

E-governance also offers the potential for collaboration between the state and private sector. Along with ttConnect, ttBizLink, which deals with the government’s business- and trade-related services, has helped make services more transparent and accessible. For travellers, the Ministry of Tourism’s Go TrinBago app is available in both the Google Play and Apple stores, and can be used offline to create an itinerary; find accommodation, transport or tour services; leave reviews and recommendations; and post photographs.

While democratising access to ICT services in rural and underserved areas remains a challenge, the government has deployed three ttConnect Express buses to travel to remote locations and provide information and public services to residents. The buses have visited Cedros, Guayaguayare, Scarborough, Siparia, Speyside and Toco, and residents can request a bus to visit their community via post, email or fax.

BPO

T&T has been moving to promote itself as a centre for BPO as a means of diversifying away from its dependence on oil revenue and creating job opportunities. The country offers a number of competitive advantages for BPO entrants, including a young, tech-savvy, English-speaking workforce; strong higher education institutions; stable infrastructure; and close proximity to North and South American markets.

The two main BPO operators in T&T are Aegis and iQor. Aegis was the first BPO company to set up in T&T in 2001. It employs around 100 people and services the manufacturing, retail, energy and finance industries. It has both local and international clients, mostly from the US and Canada. Florida-based iQor is the world’s largest product support services company, operating across 66 countries and employing 40,000 people globally. It opened its Trinidad office at Tamana InTech Park in 2015 with support from InvesTT, and in September 2017 opened a 3720-sq-metre call centre in Barataria in northern Trinidad to serve two online retail clients. It now has around 1000 employees in T&T.

Among the companies outsourcing operations to T&T are Canada’s Scotiabank, which employs 750 people in Trinidad; and Virtana, which capitalises on the country’s pool of highly skilled engineering graduates to deliver robotics software to international technology companies. Virtana works closely with the UWI and sponsors its awards programme recognising high-achieving students in software and robotics courses.

To further the development of human resources, the government launched the Global Business Services programme in 2016. The initiative is designed to upskill those working in finance and accounting with a focus on BPO, and is carried out in conjunction with the T&T International Financial Centre and the London-based Association of Chartered Certified Accountants. “The private sector continues to maintain high standards of education, providing students with a range of useful skills applicable to the job market,” Brian James, general manager at the MIC Institute of Technology, told OBG. “The development of a homegrown labour force, with aptitudes in local industry and manufacturing, would play into the overarching diversification strategy that will substantially benefit the economy in the long term.”

The sector is not without its challenges, however. According to AT Kearney’s 2019 Global Services Location Index, which ranks countries on their ability to provide business services to global firms, T&T placed 46th out of 50 countries, a decline of seven rungs on 2017’s index. The country notably scored third to last in the digital resonance category, which takes into account cybersecurity. Legislation on cybersecurity is still pending formal ratification, while the Electronic Transactions Act and the Data Protection Act have yet to be completely approved.

Tamana

The year 2014 saw the opening of an industrial park in T&T to support tech-focused operations. The Tamana InTech Park in northern Trinidad, located some 45 km from Port of Spain and close to the Piarco International Airport, is home to 700 iQor agents and other BPO- and ICT-related companies. The park offers lots of up to 83,800 sq metres and leases as long as 60 years. Each lot is connected to a 144-strand, single-core, fibre-optic cable, and the park maintains its own power source via an independent substation.

Adding to recent efforts to shore up ICT education (see analysis), the University of T&T (UTT) is located on the park, affording ready access to skilled graduates from its ICT campus and offering related R&D partnerships. The UTT has alliances with a number of international academic institutions, including the University of Texas at Austin, the University of Cambridge, Johns Hopkins Medicine International, the Technical University of Denmark, Malaysian state-owned SIRIM Berhad, the IBM World Trade Corporation and the University of British Colombia. Tamana InTech Park also offers access to on-site accounting and financial services.

Outlook

The future remains positive for the ICT sector in T&T. The latest iteration of the NICT Plan looks set to boost the sector’s contribution to GDP, while network expansions and upgrades are providing the infrastructure for increased connectivity. Consultants with experience in ICT will be in demand from both the public and private sectors, while high-skill sectors such as software development and solutions all carry considerable potential. The recent influx of qualified Venezuelan migrants also holds the potential to transform the ICT sector, with Spanish-speakers adding to the twin islands’ outsourcing and communications offer allowing for easier entry into Latin American markets. Smart technology is likely to have a sizeable impact on major urban centres, a development that will be facilitated by the planned rollout of 5G networks.

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The Report: Trinidad & Tobago 2020

ICT chapter from The Report: Trinidad & Tobago 2020

Cover of The Report: Trinidad & Tobago 2020

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