Competition among providers also increases
Competition among cable and Internet providers is pushing into a new phase with the rollout of fiber networks. The technology, which uses fiber optic cables to deliver faster access to television and Internet, is relatively new to Cayman, but telecom companies here are making serious investments to build out the network.
The two main players are LIME, with its “Superfast” broadband reaching most people across the three islands, and Logic, which recently bought Weststar to expand its reach on Grand Cayman.
C3, a smaller player in the market for Internet connections, is better known for its parent company Hurley’s Entertainment, which owns the Z-99 and Rooster 101 radio stations. C3 is rolling out its own fiber network, so far covering only parts of George Town.
Pamela Small, an assistant vice president with Logic, said all this competition is a “good thing for Cayman.” Logic signed a contract for an island-wide fiber network in April 2012 and since then, its service has spread to cover most of George Town, Seven Mile Beach and half of West Bay. The company is working in the South Sound and Crewe Road areas now, according to Ms. Small.
With the recent purchase of Weststar, Logic has expanded its reach east to Health City Cayman Islands, with lines running along the main road from the East End to Bodden Town.
Ms. Small said Logic’s contract requires the company to have a fiber network across Grand Cayman by 2017. LIME is further along with its rollout for the new network. It already has all of Grand Cayman wired for broadband access, and a company representative says it will have all of the island wired for fiber in January.
LIME’s Julie Hutton said almost all customers on the Sister Islands have been upgraded to fiber and the company has crews working on the upgrade in West Bay now.
Fiber networks are a major investment for such a small market. Logic’s Ms. Small said, “We’re building infrastructure that will be in use for years.”
The infrastructure running fiber around Cayman is expected to last decades.
Ms. Hutton said LIME has offered Internet connections in Grand Cayman since 1995. “We have seen the penetration of broadband services increase over the last decade substantially,” she said.
Broadband penetration, the number of people connected to broadband Internet, in Cayman is the highest in the Caribbean, according to a 2013 survey by the International Telecommunications Union.
That number does not include people who connect through mobile networks such as Digicel’s 4G LTE on a smartphone or through a mobile connection box.
According to data from the Cayman Information and Communications Technology Authority, broadband Internet connections have more than doubled in the past 10 years. As of July, the Authority reported 21,302 broadband connections running across cable and fiber wires in Cayman.
With Internet and television providers all working on similar access for customers, the competition turns to price. In an area like George Town, business and residential customers now have four choices for an Internet connection.
Prices for a 10 Mbps connection – the most popular residential connection speed, which means users can download at rates of up to 10 megabits per second – range from $79 a month from LIME to $99 a month from C3.
Connections with 10 Mbps can easily handle making a video call with Skype and streaming movies over services such as Netflix.
Costs vary over plans, and each company offers tiers based on download speed. Ms. Small said Logic offers residential speeds from 3 Mbps up to 25. For businesses, which can use a lot of network capacity when working on overseas servers, Ms. Small said, “We can get them what they want.” And that can include connections up to a gigabyte per second – that’s 1,000 megabits per second.
Connecting to overseas
One of the biggest selling points for residential customers to upgrade is for better connections to such services as Netflix. But to get that streaming video, the connection has to come from servers off island. The situation is similar for large companies that conduct most of their business outside of Cayman and back up entire networks based in Cayman to servers in the United States or elsewhere abroad.
Just because a customer buys 10 Mbps service doesn’t mean that will be the actual speed of the connection. The terms of service for each Internet provider in Cayman states that connection speed will depend on congestion in the network, wiring in the building and other issues.
The bottleneck for service will be on undersea cables running to places like Miami and Cancun, Mexico, where Caribbean Internet connects with mainland networks.
Ms. Hutton said LIME has multiple lines running to the mainland. But, she said, “Actual connect speeds depend on the … server and link capacity at any given time of the day. Evening in the U.S. and Caribbean could prove to be busy and congested times for these companies, but we would expect them to dimension capacity accordingly.”
Logic’s Ms. Small said her company has similar issues with congestion on the network. Sunday night, for example, is a popular time for companies to run major backups and upload a lot of data to servers on the mainland, but that’s also a prime time for families to stream a movie from Netflix.