Ahead of the Total Telecom Congress 2019, we caught up with Jean-Yves Charlier, to discuss the key trends in the industry

As the world looks ahead to 5G rollout, what are the main challenges for operators?

There are a number of significant challenges that operators, regulators and governments alike need to address.

The first is how the industry will monetise 5G and address the opportunities created for specific vertical applications.  Whilst 4G was designed primarily for superfast mobile internet, 5G goes beyond and offers opportunities to develop specific vertical market solutions such as autonomous vehicles.  The cost of 5G will be significant for the industry and the development of new services leading to significant new revenues streams needs to be at the heart of any 5G strategy.

The second is the timing and cost of 5G roll-outs.  Across the Caribbean and the Pacific islands, where Digicel operates, we still in the process of rolling out 4G networks and just 50% of our customers in most markets has LTE handsets.  So the 5G agenda is not for today or tomorrow.  Operators need to strategize on the timing of 5G otherwise it will be no more than a costly infrastructure upgrade.

Third, is the issue of security and privacy for operators and regulators to address.  5G roll-outs will need to contend with sophisticated cybersecurity threats and it is essential that we provide a digital safety net for customers.


Is enough being done to free up the relevant spectrum bands for operators to launch 5G?

To make 5G a success, regulators and operators will need to work hand-in-hand as significant amount of spectrum resources will need to be made available at a cost that does not hamper once again the industry.  Maintaining operations of existing technologies whilst managing additional 5G spectrum will add a degree of complexity that the industry will need to address.


It’s been quite a year for Digicel. What have been some of the highlights?

Last year was a year of aggressive deployment of LTE services across all our markets.  Three years ago, we had launched LTE services in only 2 of our 31 markets.  Today, we have 29 markets with LTE services.  As a result of these roll-outs, we have seen exponential traffic growth as customers adopt LTE handsets and services.  At the same time, we continued to roll-out fibre infrastructure for consumers, corporates and governments alike across a number of island markets providing FttH and FttB services on a world-class basis.


What challenges have you faced this year?

With the major investments in our network infrastructure, the strategy is now focus on returning Digicel to growth, particularly in our core consumer mobile business.  Over the last four quarters, we have seen considerable progress in our strategy to return to growth.  In the last quarter, we returned to growth on an underlying business as we delivered Improved growth rates across all our segments particularly in our consumer fixed broadband and business solutions segments.

Beyond focusing on growth in our core segments, we have developed a strategy to extend our product portfolio in content and digital services to consumers to position Digicel as a digital lifestyle provider.  Our strategic partnership with Turkcell, earlier in the year, marks a major milestone in our digital strategy.


With network security being such a hot topic with 5G, are you in favour of defining a unified set of standards to govern global network security?

Emphatically, yes. There are so many questions and concerns around standards, security and GDPR. The industry needs to address these concerns as well as provide a level of certainty and the only way to do that is to be governed by a set of global network security standards. 


What predictions do you have for the industry over the next 12-18 months?

The issue of connecting the unconnected both in the industrial world as well as emerging markets as 3.7 billion people are still not connected to the internet is essential.  The industry and governments need to address this growing inequality urgently.  The problem is that it is not commercially viable to roll out mobile or fixed networks in many parts of the world.  We need to find new funding models that oblige businesses that benefit from these networks to contribute towards the cost.

Governments need to act to agree and implement a global regulatory framework for the OTTs, which allows the operators to earn money on the massive infrastructure investments we have made, so that together we can work to bridge the digital divide and bring the myriad benefits of a connected society to all corners of the globe.