Guam telecom industry to continue growth in the post-pandemic years
By Frank Whitman
As Guam and the rest of the world emerge from three years of pandemic restrictions, telecommunications technology is seemingly ubiquitous and as essential to functioning in today’s world as ever.
In response, telecommunications providers are increasing the types and quality of services and products they offer. They are also dealing with a new set of global challenges.
“During the pandemic, reliable internet became an essential utility like power or water, which was a positive for our consumer business,” said Roland Certeza, president and CEO of local provider GTA. “We did see downturns in our enterprise segment with local businesses limited or shut down, as well a decrease in roaming revenues. As we come out of the pandemic and return to business as usual, we are now faced with new challenges including inflation, supply chain constraints, a limited workforce and a slow tourism recovery.”
Similarly, the business of another local provider, IT&E, grew during the pandemic and continues to grow, according to Angela Rosario, director of product marketing. “The telecom business has seen an increase in data consumption since the pandemic,” she said. “People are still choosing virtual over face-to-face. Schools, businesses and other organizations still prefer to use video conferencing applications.”
The companies are optimistic about their Guam business in 2023 and beyond, they said. The providers are improving their infrastructure to accommodate an increase in business.
In October 2022, IT&E announced that it had won nine licenses from the Federal Communications Commission to operate on the 2.5 gigahertz spectrum in Guam and the CNMI. The company was one of 63 winning bidders nationally and won the majority of spectrum available in Guam and the CNMI, according to the announcement. The 2.5 GHz spectrum licenses were put up for bid on July 29, 2022, “as part of the U.S. government’s efforts to expand access to citizens in rural areas and close the digital divide.”
With the additional spectrum, IT&E customers “can expect increased and improved user experience (with) faster bandwidth,” said Jim Smith, director of wireless networks for IT&E. “Long term, we can expand our portfolio to the homes via fixed wireless solutions. Short term, (they will have) better experience from a better and upgraded network.”
According to Smith, IT&E is currently evaluating some technologies and networks for possible future implementation, but he did not want to discuss them until plans are finalized.
IT&E has about 350 employees in Guam and the CNMI, about the same number as before the pandemic. No changes in the workforce are anticipated, according to Rosario.
In 2023, the company anticipates a return to “pre-pandemic normalcy,” Rosario said. “With the awarding of the FCC licenses and our other plans for the network in the region, we can anticipate a better year.”
Because it sees a bright future for telecom, GTA is investing millions of dollars in infrastructure projects, Certeza said. Projects initiated by GTA in 2022 include launching 5G on its wireless network, breaking ground on its Alupang Data Center and expansion of its Wireless Home Internet Service. “Data consumption and connectivity needs are driving our network investments,” he said.
In November 2022, GTA launched 5G coverage on its wireless network. “This means better coverage, faster speeds with more 5G sites throughout Guam from north to south,” Certeza said. “We will continue to expand our 5G network in 2023 and beyond.”
In October 2022, GTA held a groundbreaking ceremony for its Alupang Data Center. Construction is expected to be completed in the third quarter of 2024. The data center is to provide more than 31,000 square feet of floor space with 4 megawatts of power capacity, which will be able to receive new undersea fiber cables.
“GTA already successfully operates several cable landing stations and data centers in Piti,” Certeza said. The new center will provide a connectivity hub for all new cables coming into Guam.
The company also expanded its Wireless Home Internet Service. The service was rolled out in January 2022 to serve customers living in areas - primarily in the northern and southern areas of the island - that cannot get GTA high-speed internet services provided by the Fiber to the Neighborhood initiative. Originally available in eight designated areas, it is now available in 12 areas. The service uses a dedicated spectrum to provide a consistent wireless internet connection to customers.
In October 2022, GTA was awarded a $29.8 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development ReConnect Loan and Grant program. The grant is to be used to connect 8,622 homes in southern Guam to high-speed internet over the next five years. “We can fund the cost of construction, improvements or acquisitions of facilities and equipment needed to provide fiber to more homes in eligible underserved areas that currently do not have sufficient access to high-speed internet,” Certeza said.
GTA has about 470 employees and expects that number to increase as the company’s business grows.
Looking forward, GTA sees only growth. “Data usage is growing exponentially, so our investments in our network, data centers and more undersea cables will keep Guam connected to the world,” Certeza said. “The rise in content delivery investments has become part of a critical infrastructure that drives the modern internet, enabling an even higher amount of information and data to be sent and received across oceans.”
A third Guam provider, Docomo Pacific, declined to provide information for this article. However, in May 2022 the company issued a press release stating that it would be investing “heavily” in its network following extended service outages. The company “commits urgent focus and additional capital investment to improve network reliability following recent outages,” according to the release.