The Bahamas Telecommunications Company (BTC) has signed a Global System for Mobile Communication (GSM) contract with the Canada-based Nortel Networks, to upgrade cellular services in The Bahamas.

The Nortel Networks GSM/GPRS technology will position BTC to increase network capacity, while driving down operational costs. It will also support GSM roaming services with BTC’s global roaming partners of choice.

Nortel Networks will provide both core and access solutions from Nortel Networks Wireless Data Network portfolio to overlay BTC’s existing Time Division Multiple Access (TDMA) infrastructure with a next generation GSM/GPRS network. The network integration will include implementation of an Enhanced Data GSM Evolution (EDGE) to support migration to third generation wireless services. Implementation is expected during Fall 2003, with the GSM/GPRS infrastructure accommodating a customer base of some 254,000. The existing TDMA system will not be phased out, but will run parallel to the GSM/GPRS system. *”We are hoping to keep the TDMA system in place for at least three to five years, so that we can provide an alternative technology for those customers who are not on the GSM network,”* said Leon Williams, BTC’s Chief Operating Officer.

Reports are that the GSM/GPRS system is presently the most widely used system, with some 75 per cent of the world’s telecommunications traffic “sitting on a GSM/GPRS network”, signifying some 800 million subscribers globally.

President of Nortel Caribbean and Latin America, Dion Joannou, participated in the signing ceremony yesterday. He indicated that the agreement with the BTC fits in with Nortel’s vision to transform district networks into one network that is “robust, flexible and secure.” *”This agreement really serves to strengthen the relationship we have had with BTC and shows our commitment to the Caribbean,”* he said. Nortel has had a long-standing relationship with BTC, working with the company for the past 30 years in various areas. Established more than a century ago, Nortel has participated in major developments in the evolution of communications networks technology, worldwide.

The Hon. Bradley Roberts, the Government Minister with responsibility for BTC, points out that the moratorium placed on cell phones in January has resulted in hardship for many residents, business and visitors, whose lifestyle depends on a mobile communications network. The GSM/GPRS infrastructure will bring BTC’s problems of cellular phone provision to an end, he said.

The Government currently owns 100% of the Bahamas Telecommunications Company (BTC) and is seeking a strategic partner for the sale of a 49% stake in the company, and transfer of management control. At the time the invitation to bid was launched, Minister of State in the Ministry of Finance, the Hon. James Smith observed that a new and rejuvenated BTC would provide a solid base for e-commerce development within the jurisdiction.

Earlier this year, the Government introduced a Policy Statement on **”Electronic Commerce and the Bahamian Digital Agenda”**. Stating that the development of e-commerce will enable The Bahamas to move to the highest levels of economic and social development, the Prime Minister at that time described the Policy Document as Government’s vision for The Bahamas to become a centre of excellence for e-commerce.

**Connecting The Caribbean**

This week The Bahamas is hosting the 19th Annual Conference of the Caribbean Association of National Telecommunications Organisations (CANTO). The event is being co-sponsored by BTC, under the theme “Connecting The Caribbean: Touching Lives for Growth and Development Through Telecommunications.” Addressing the Opening Session, Bahamas Prime Minister the Hon. Perry G. Christie pointed out that the development tool of advanced communications is the most efficient weapon against dissimilar development rates and uneven levels of development. According to the Prime Minister, the means to not only compete with, but also of communicating with more developed nations and international institutions will more and more “come to depend on our access to their advanced communications platforms.”

Speaking at this same Conference, Minister Roberts said the Government recognises that the development and provision of a world-class telecommunications infrastructure is critical to the ongoing economic and social development of the nation.