St. Maarten Telecom providers agree that easy part of code switch is over

POSTED: 09/30/11 12:27 PM

St. Maarten – The top managers of Telem Group of Companies and United Telecommunications Service concur that today’s start of the permissive dialing period for St. Maarten’s new country code (1-721) is the easy part of what is to come. As the one year transition progresses things will get more difficult as they seek to move local customers onto the new platform of using the area code.

Chief Financial Officer at the Telem Group Helma Etnel, who leads the company’s management team, is happy with the “excellent cooperation and guidance” from the Bureau Telecommunications & Post. That included agreeing with UTS to hire the same consultant to help program the networks at both providers to handle the change.

“The most difficulty will come when we look at dialing out and this, what we did today, is really just the easy phase,” Etnel said.

UTS’ Chief Executive Officer Glen Carty said he could already confirm the new code is working as they made test calls with it. Earlier in the evening Meyers had indicated the new code would go live at 2:00 a.m.

“For UTS this change has repercussions beyond the fact that we have to deal with multiple regulators. This also has legal repercussions, I.T. repercussions, Billing repercussions, marketing repercussions and repercussions on investments because it was really difficult to determine what resources to put aside. We ended up having to use people who are busy crafting new products and services to work on programming this change. The work is only now starting though because we have to get this watertight,” Carty said.

Putting on his cap as President of the St. Maarten Chamber of Commerce and Industry Carty added, “There will also be repercussions for signs and for our marketing as a tourism destination. You also have business people with cards out there, but that shouldn’t be too big a problem considering that we have the one year permissive period.”

Speakers during the official part of the ceremony stressed the significance of the switch to the new code and labeled it part of the foundation for continuing to build the nation, integrate it into the region in which it exists and strengthening the link with its main source market for tourism – the United States.

“The course has been followed and we have not deviated. We have to integrate into the region we want to attract and entering the North American Numbering Plan is part of that. This also shows that no matter our size, we are a determined people who come together and achieve the impossible,” Interim Director of the Bureau Telecommunication and Post St. Maarten Peggy Ann Brandon said.

Minister Meyers said it was a no brainer for the government to reject the advice not to use the North American Numbering Plan when the decision was first being considered by the Executive Council of the Island Territory of St. Maarten. The no brainer element is the link to the United States via tourism. So the government decided to “cater to tourism through telecommunication.”

“We are here today because of the resolve of a lot of people at different stages. Our size of scale should not be a deterrent or determining factor of what we can and cannot do. We have taken the first step. Let us be brave and continue,” Meyers said.

Former Managing Director of Smitcoms Kenneth Curtis Haynes sees the switch to the North American Numbering Plan as an advantageous move because it creates ease of dialing, ends the issue of people from the United States having difficulty with an unfamiliar numbering system, it supports the economy and it creates a new economic pillar.

“Telecommunications is a product we can sell and we need to work on that. We can do a lot more with other facilities. The North American Numbering Plan makes us part of the Caribbean and links us with the U.S. and we can also now consider a data center, which can be a second leg for our economy. Also we need to consider that the customer base will not grow dramatically even if we put a phone in each child’s hands the return per user won’t allow you to sustain the economy and develop telecommunication,” Haynes said.

He’d add later, “This switch puts 7.8 million numbers at our disposal. St. Maarten is only using about 5 percent right now. We can also get overseas operators on our networks and the local 1-800 numbers can stay in use. We can also get vertical service phones. This switch also simplifies things for the regulator and for the operators creating less headache and allows him to interface with one regulator.”

Haynes has also pressed the government to look at how they can achieve maximum benefit from the switch and the telecom providers to look at how they can continue to lower their bottom lines and invest in improved service and products for the country’s people.

“This is implementation so let it grow and succeed,” Haynes said.

Official launch

The permissive dialing period symbolically began with the push of a button on a promotional video by former Minister of Telecommunications in the Netehrlands Antilles Leo Chance. He did the honor on request of Minister of Tourism, Economic Affairs, Transportation and Telecommunication Franklin Meyers.

Plaques were also given out to Meyers, Nigel Cassimire of the Caribbean Telecommunications Union – who helped secure unanimous support for St. Maarten to join the North American Numbering Plan –, Haynes and Brandon.

Data Center

Etnel and Carty are both in agreement with Haynes where it comes to developing a data center.

“We would hope to host the data center because we can provide the capacity with our undersea cable SMPR-1 and the ground floor of the Smitcoms building has the space to hold it. This will create job opportunities and also allows us to diversify the economy,” Etnel said.

“I would say never say never, and while most data centers are kept out of the hurricane belt, I believe that modern construction techniques solve that problem. I’d even go further and say let’s look at contact and call centers because our people are highly educated and multi-lingual. So I concur with Mr. Haynes and I believe the execution needs to happen, so let’s put our money where our mouth is,” Carty said on his turn.

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