Caribbean phone wars hit Trinidad

If you have been following the travels of former Esat BT/Esat Digifone owner Denis O’Brien you will be aware that he has been investing heavily in the Caribbean. It seems that Digicel is causing something of a problem on some of the islands:

Historically, C&W has had a virtual monopoly in Britain’s former Caribbean colonies – a monopoly that has been suffering erosion since 2001, when Irish businessman Denis O’Brien, the man behind Digicel, entered the Jamaican market with the country’s first GSM mobile phone service.

Digicel quickly became the market leader in Jamaica and now has operations in 15 countries in the region, including Barbados, Grenada, Antigua and Barbuda, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Haiti and St Lucia.

“We generally overtake the incumbents within the first 12 months or quicker,” Mr O’Brien says.

But C&W has been prepared to fight Digicel every step of the way, as the West Indies Cricket Board discovered to their cost last year.

C&W had sponsored the West Indies team until 2004, when the board signed a five-year deal worth $20m (£11.4m) with Digicel instead – a move described in some quarters as being tantamount to replacing Coke with Pepsi.

In the meantime, C&W had signed individual sponsorship deals with seven West Indies players, including Trinidad-born captain Brian Lara and big-hitting Jamaican batsman Chris Gayle.

The resulting conflict led to the seven being dropped from last year’s opening West Indies Test match against South Africa in Guyana, although the weakened home team still held the visitors to a draw.

And so desperate was the incumbent to hold on to customers that they offered a buy-one-get-one-free phone deal to customers, causing riots.