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Aliv Near 'End Game' Over Network Roll-Out

By NEIL HARTNELL

Tribune Business Editor

nhartnell@tribunemedia.net

ALIV says it is "close to the end game" on its network roll-out, its top executive expressing confidence the full build-out will be completed within the two-year target.

Damian Blackburn told Tribune Business that 93.5 per cent of the mobile provider's tower sites are either fully operational or have equipment installed, with just Cat Island and the far southern Bahamas now awaiting service launch.

"We''re getting close to the end game with the roll-out," he said. "Our target is 232 sites, and we have something like 193 sites on air and nearly all the other sites have equipment. We have equipment installed at 217, with those sites [24] just awaiting transmission.

"The network is working in Exuma, Long Island and San Salvador. Exuma was some time in February, Long Island some time in March, and San Salvador right at the end of March; the last week before Easter. All the islands in the south are going to come on one after the other."

Mr Blackburn added that Aliv's launch in Rum Cay, and completion of the Exuma Cays, was imminent. He added that Cat Island was "more involved", saying: "Cat Island has some interesting geography. We're using microwave links."

Reaffirming that Aliv's infrastructure build-out pace was "very good given all the challenges we had to overcome", Mr Blackburn was optimistic that the company would complete nationwide coverage of the Bahamas within two years.

This was the timeframe stipulated in its licence and regulatory obligations, with Aliv required to complete its roll-out by end-June 2018 to avoid any penalties.

"We're going to get everything rolled-out within the two-year commitment," Mr Blackburn told Tribune Business. "Most of those sites that have already been done will be up and running in April. We'll meet the overall two-year commitment.

"We've had to construct 160 towers of our own and co-locate at 70. We've had a lot of challenges, and have had to co-ordinate closely with BTC. There's a lot of co-ordination with BTC involved, and challenges in getting all the bits and pieces together to make it work."

Mr Blackburn estimated that Aliv now has "just over 30 per cent market share" in the Bahamian mobile industry, having grown its subscriber base to around 112,000 based on those whose accounts have been active within the last 60 days. "We're still growing that base, growing revenues and, obviously, the network," he told Tribune Business. "We're on plan, there or thereabouts, and that's starting to come through. The plans that we've got in the marketplace are working."

Mr Blackburn added that Aliv will be able to fully concentrate on operations, and focus on sales and marketing to further grow its business, once the network roll-out is behind it.

"The next 18 months is head down," he added. "Every island will get the same service, so consumers - whether in Inagua or Bimini - they're all getting exactly the same service in terms of fast data networks, which is good news for the smaller islands. Already in Exuma we've seen a lot of people using it for Internet."

Mr Blackburn said Aliv had also seen a strong response to its US, Canadian and Caribbean roaming plans launched just before Easter.

"Gone are the days when roaming charges were up there," he told Tribune Business. "We're expecting, and have seen over Easter, a lot of people adopting that."

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