By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
Aliv yesterday called for greater co-operation from the Bahamas Telecommunications Company (BTC) in developing "a more resilient interconnection regime" following several recent service disruptions that impacted both carriers' clients.
Damian Blackburn, Aliv's top executive, told Tribune Business that "the Bahamian people have the right to expect" that calls, texts and other forms of communication will enjoy an interruption-free two-way flow between the mobile rivals.
Speaking after communications between Aliv and BTC customers were disrupted at least three times in recent months, Mr Blackburn said his company had "consistently" sought greater co-operation from BTC to "make the way calls are handed over between the networks more resilient".
"We have a policy in Aliv that, whenever there's a service interruption or outage, there is a quick move to notify customers and explain the problem," he told this newspaper. "There have been some fairly high profile disruptions in Aliv customers trying to call BTC customers, and we obviously have no control whatsoever over BTC's network."
Garfield "Garry" Sinclair, BTC's chief executive, issued an apology over the last outage that occurred over the weekend of June 29-30, which impacted both mobile and fixed-line communications customers.
The police control room and emergency calls were among the facilities said to have been negatively impacted by "a critical fault" on BTC's transmission ring between New Providence and Grand Bahama, which took the better part of two days to correct, and also interrupted calls and messages to Aliv customers and vice versa.
Mr Sinclair's statement conceded that there were "intermittent issues with BTC mobile voice services, as customers were unable to reach some off-net destinations", and his Aliv counterpart yesterday suggested it was time for the two carriers to work together to make their interconnection more resilient to system disruptions.
"We've consistently called for co-operation with BTC to make the way the calls are handed over between the networks more resilient," Mr Blackburn told Tribune Business. "Over the last three years both of us have been working in the market, and for the good of The Bahamas the time has come to sort this out.
"We have requested, and we expect, that BTC will now co-operate with us to sort this out and build a more resilient interconnection regime. This, for us now, is top of the list. We don't want to have to send messages to our customers explaining why they cannot call customers on BTC's network and vice versa any more. We think the public of The Bahamas has the right to expect that."
Interconnection is the points at which BTC's and Aliv's network infrastructure links to one another, thus enabling calls and other forms of communication flow seamlessly from one carrier's customers to another. It is vital to fostering reliable, consistent communications across the entire Bahamas as well as a fair competitive environment for both the mobile rivals.
Mr Blackburn, meanwhile, said "not one" of Aliv's multiple New Providence mobile tower sites was knocked out by the recent Bahamas Power & Light (BPL) load shedding and blackouts that have impacted the island for several weeks.
Arguing that this was "a testament" to the strength of Aliv's $123m network infrastructure, he added that it had provided a good test of its resiliency ahead of the 2019 hurricane season.
"We're a mobile operator with deep experience of operating in the hurricane belt, and our contingency teams are prepared for hurricane season," Mr Blackburn said. "We've had a bit of a challenge with the power outages, and I can report that not one site in New Providence lost power."
Confirming that all network locations are equipped with back-up generators and storage batteries, he added: "It was a bit of a trial. If we do have to batten down the hatches at some point in the future it shows that all the investment we've made, which was a lot of money to produce a quality network" was well spent.
"It's unfortunate there are power outages," Mr Blackburn continued, "but it is a testament to the planning we did and it has not affected the service to our customers as a result."
He added that Aliv's transformation from start-up to established mobile operator in less than three years had been achieved by a "predominantly Bahamian team, most of whom had no telecommunications experience before Aliv".
Mr Blackburn said training and knowledge transfer had taken Aliv to the position "where most of our operation is fully Bahamian", and he explained: "At the beginning we were mandated as part of our licence obligation to partner with a network engineering company that had prior experience of doing a network roll-out.
"That was a sensible part of the Request for Proposal process. We chose to work with SaskTel (from Saskatchewan, Canada) and we had half a dozen Canadian engineers working on the roll-out and training Bahamian engineers."
Knowledge transfer had now progressed to such an extent, Mr Blackburn added, that the Canadian engineers had been replaced by an all-Bahamian engineering workforce.