Open Mobile, the island’s only wireless provider whose service structure is based solely on prepaid services, is in the final stages of completing its 4G Long Term Evolution (LTE) network, which should be up and running before the end of this year, News is my Business learned Wednesday.
To launch its next-generation network, Open Mobile is investing $250 million, the highest amount of money it has pumped into its Puerto Rico infrastructure since entering the local market in 1999. Once it flips the switch on its new network, the carrier will be joining competitors T-Mobile, Claro and AT&T, all of which have launched 4G platforms this year.
The carrier chose Ericsson to supply, deploy and manage its islandwide network.
Josué González, marketing director for Open Mobile, said the hefty investment is pretty much “a must to be able to go where consumers expect us to, which is offering the latest equipment and services at the fastest speeds possible.”
By rolling out 4G LTE, Open Mobile will be adopting a worldwide technology standard that among other things is known for its capacity to provide bleeding-fast wireless broadband speeds of at least 100 megabits per second for downloads and 50 Mbps for uploads.
“Basically this means that customers would be able to download 20 photos in a minute, and a song in four seconds,” said González, who noted that while Open Mobile is adopting the new digital platform, it will keep its existing CDMA/EV-DO digital network to benefit clients that may not want to upgrade.
The company will invest an additional $30 million to expand its current network and keep it running parallel to the new 4G LTE platform, the executive noted.
Open Mobile entered the local market about 12 years ago as MoviStar, which filed for bankruptcy in 2007, paving the way for current owners M/C Venture Partner and Columbia Capital, to acquire its assets for $160 million.
In the last four years, the company has increased its local customer base from 60,000 to 350,000 cornering the no-contract, pay-for-play market through the business model it adopted since making its local debut, González noted.
New devices on the horizon
Customers wanting to take advantage of the faster 4G LTE speeds and services will be required to change their existing handsets to network-compatible devices, González said.
In preparation for that, Open Mobile is adding several smartphones to its portfolio of products, as well as a wireless hotspot device and several ‘tablet’ computers. The Kyocera Milano, the LG Ignite and the HTC Acquire are three of the smartphones that will be available to customers in coming months.
Meanwhile, the carrier plans to integrate some novel equipment at its 23 local stores, including a Sony-Ericcson-branded robot that will act as “virtual host” to incoming customers. The 3-foot, white automaton is outfitted with a small screen that enables a human to interact with the customer in a futuristic way, and will be posted at each Open Mobile store to greet and direct customers, González said.
Ericsson’s global experience and vision surrounding 4G LTE were significant reasons for selecting it as its key infrastructure partner, Open Mobile officials said.
Sergio Quiroga, head of Ericsson in Latin America, said: “We are in a unique position with our global LTE leadership. Having worked closely with Open Mobile to plan its LTE rollout, we are proud to bring the next generation of mobile broadband to Puerto Rico. Our world-class services and LTE network will enable Open Mobile to continue to deliver a superior end-user experience to its customers.”
Open Mobile ‘democratizing’ broadband
In an interview with News is my Business, technology expert and Open Mobile celebrity spokesman Otto Oppenheimer said by launching 4G LTE, which makes high-speed wireless services available to customers from all socio-economic levels, the carrier is “democratizing broadband.”
“This technology allows a customer, for example, to buy one device and use it at home to connect five computers. In other words, the company is extending technology and infrastructure to users who can now evolve,” Oppenheimer said. “And what’s even more interesting is that they can do so for $55 a month, which they can chose to pay, or not, and not be penalized for it, and access the service when they can.”
Oppenheimer compared Open Mobile’s transition from CDMA/EV-DO to 4G LTE to expanding a three-lane road into a five-lane highway where frequencies travel faster and are harnessed more efficiently to give access to significant amounts of data.