Caricel set to win Jamaica mobile licence

By:
Alan Burkitt-Gray
Published on:

The Jamaican prime minister says a company whose backers seem unidentified is likely to win the country's third mobile licence

Jamaica is about to get its third mobile network, as the government appears set to grant a licence to Caricel, a locally owned company that will compete with Digicel and Liberty Global’s Flow.

Prime minister Andrew Holness made the announcement in a statement to Jamaica’s House of Representatives this week, following complaints that the identity of the people behind Caricel was a mystery.

Caricel plans to build a 4G-only network. It is believed to be planning to spend $50 million to build the network in the capital, Jamaica.

Caricel, owned by Symbiote Investments, calls itself “Jamaica’s first pure data service company”. It adds: “Caricel will this year launch an IP multi-service, multimedia communications network, providing products and services to residential, business and government entities.”

The company says it is owned by “a consortium of Jamaican businessmen with a passion for telecommunications and a genuine interest in empowering their fellow countrymen”. But it does not name the people involved.

The award of the licence has met with some controversy in Jamaica, as Symbiote Investments has an existing carrier and service provider licence and was accused of using unauthorised spectrum. A government department, the Office of the Contractor General, had recommended that the mobile licence should not be issued and that the licences previously granted be revoked.

But Prime Minister Holness disagreed. He told the house: “Non-issuance of the spectrum licence, in the circumstances, would be tantamount to a revocation of the grant of said licence and would be in violation of the principles of natural justice.”

The previous government approved the 15-year mobile licence in February 2016, on payment of about $20 million.

“The main work for my Cabinet was to determine whether the conditions set by the former Cabinet were met, but we did more than that. We carefully considered the matter and took into account the legal advice of the attorney general,” Holness said.

However he added that the attorney general has recommended a number of areas for legislative and other actions. These, he said, include placing a duty on non-natural persons (that is, companies) applying for telecommunications licences should provide all required and relevant information about their shareholders, directors and other officers.

Caricel does not list its directors and senior staff on its website, simply listing that it has a “board chairman, board of directors, chief executive officer, senior vice president marketing and commercial operations, company secretary, chief technical officer and chief financial officer”, without giving names.

However, according to LinkedIn, the CEO of Symbiote Investments/Caricel is Lowell Lawrence. Three years ago he was director of a company called Newgen Technologies, which accused the incumbent fixed and mobile operator, Lime – the then trading name for what is now Flow, and then owned by Cable & Wireless Communications – of abusing its dominant position.

Lime and Newgen settled the $13 million lawsuit without disclosing details.

“Based on the nature of the thing, I am not at liberty to get into any detail. The most I can say to you is that the matter was settled in a mutually beneficial way,” Lawrence told the Caribbean Business Report at the time.

Newgen was offering wholesale international termination services, according to the Jamaica Observer. According to another Jamaica publication, the Gleaner, Newgen merged with Index Communications Network, trading as Gotel, to operate under the Symbiote Investments brand.