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Building business connections

Thursday, March 24, 2011
Michael Branco explains Ignition’s business continuity services to FlowTrinidad’s Corporate Communications Manager, Kisha Wilson at the launch of Columbus Business Services to journalists. Photo:Brian Ng Fatt

Sharon Roper, Flow’s vice-president for marketing in Jamaica, was in an expansive mood. “The fibre infrastructure is essentially permanent,” Roper noted, “though modems and software may need to be upgraded and replaced over time.” A slide behind her enumerated the considerable numbers behind the investment that Columbus Networks has made in building a cabled data network circling the Caribbean Sea. The Arcos Ring, a choppy oval of interconnected fibre cabling links, reaches from Florida and the Bahamas to the north, to Guyana and Suriname to the east, dipping down as far as Ecuador to the south and to Guatemala and El Salvador on the west. Described as a ring, the network topology is really a series of four interlocking segments that offer better recovery capabilities should there be a network interruption. The 18,000 kilometres of undersea cable joins 36 landing stations in 22 countries and represents an investment of (US)$1 billion. Columbus Networks, a subsidiary of parent body Columbus Communications, claims 60 to 70 per cent of all Internet traffic in the Caribbean. A “carrier of carriers,” Columbus Networks moves the Internet data streams of 40 key Internet carriers worldwide throughout the Caribbean archipelago and parts of Central America.

There’s a lot to acknowledge in the cheerful bragging that the Columbus team was indulging in during the Jamaica launch last week at the Wyndham Hotel of its new Columbus Business Solutions offerings.
In just five years, the company has gone from an entrant in the Caribbean cable and broadband business to a game changer in several territories with its retail triple-play product to the home. Under the Flow brand that offering, which bundled fast, cost-effective Internet access, cable television and telephony into a single package, proved to be a compelling competitor in several regional markets, driving prices down on its rivals’ sell sheets. Having spanked competitors in the retail market, Columbus Business Solutions (CBS) is the company’s business initiative to offer a proper corporate scale butt-kicking to its broadband competitors in the business market. Columbus began in T&T with a service that was 95 per cent video signal, much of it of shady origin and a garnishing of Internet service. They have managed, in half a decade, to move that to 60 per cent cable video and 40 per cent data streams backed by a serious physical infrastructure, so the company’s focus on small and medium business enterprises for its services is likely to provide some real competitive impetus in the regional broadband for business market.

According to John Reid, president and chief operating officer of the Southern Caribbean region, up to 25 per cent—by revenue—of the company’s Internet business in T&T is now corporate customers and the company has only just begun knocking on the doors of an estimated 40,000 potential small-and medium-enterprise customers. Of course, that could just be literary license, since, according to Rhea Yaw Ching, group head, sales, marketing and communications for the Southern Caribbean, Columbus Business Solutions has been signing up business customers coming to the company at a rate of roughly 20 every day since launching the solution was launched in T&T in February 2011.
So what’s Columbus Business Solutions to a corporate customer? It’s a suite of services built around a fast cable backbone that literally reaches around the Caribbean. It’s also, potentially, a big savings over existing rates for business broadband connections for customers using services from alternatives such as TSTT.

CBS offers three tiers of basic data service, all of which come with at least one dedicated IP address.
The sweet spot in the service line-up is in the middle, Biz 10, which offers two mbps megabytes per second (mbps) for upload and 10 mbps per second of download speed for $804.99. The roughly comparable plan from TSTT’s Blink for Business is called Blink for Business Ultra and offers 750 kilobytes per second (kbps) for upload and 10 mbps for download at $5,249. Both prices were drawn from current sales information on each company’s broadband for business Web sites. This kind of wild discrepancy in the market is likely to right itself soon enough but, for now, the Columbus offering is a no-brainer for any company with a small budget for connectivity and a moderate appetite for Web speed.
Both of these packages are quite basic, and offer few of the largely unnecessary frills that a company with a serious focus on the Web is likely to find interesting. Only the smallest of companies would find free e-mail addresses to be of any use and most customers will be asking questions about ancillary services that leverage business needs over IP protocols.

It’s here that CBS begins to pull decisively ahead in the race to deliver enterprise friendly solutions to business. Some of the offerings feel grafted on. It’s a rare company that will need a business cable television package or personal video recorder package, but the telephony packages that consumers have haltingly adopted are likely to find real interest in the corporate space as affordable add-ons to the data packages (read more in CBS Partners). Columbus’ aggressive pricing is clearly focused on one of its real business challenges, moving customers from existing solutions from its competitors in a business environment in which it can take some effort from information technology backrooms to migrate from an incumbent provider to a new solution. Columbus Business Solutions is an intriguing package that may well make it worth the investment involved in switching for large corporations while offering affordable enterprise scale solutions to smaller businesses. Read more about FlowTrinidad’s plans for education in next Tuesday’s BitDepth in the Guardian.


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