The tiny central American state of Belize will become home to three wireless network operators following news that SpeedNet, a local company owned by two brothers of Prime Minister Johnny Briceno that was awarded a 15-year licence in August 2003, has signed a contract with Nortel Networks for the supply and installation of a CDMA2000 1X network. The new equipment will allow SpeedNet to offer a suite of high speed services including web browsing, e-mails, photos and music downloads, ringtones and location-based services. For business customers SpeedNet plans to launch VPN services, wireless broadband and secure corporate access facilities.
SpeedNet will – at least in theory – be joining two GSM network operators, Belize Telecommunications Limited (BTL) and Intelco. In practice, however, the future of the second operator, is in doubt after reports that it was close to bankruptcy and that its owner, former Belizean Attorney General Glenn Godfrey, was seeking a buyer. Possible purchasers include ICC, the parent of rival cellco BTL, and Jamaican wireless operator Digicell. Intelco has reportedly struggled to keep its head above water despite winning a lucrative government contract for the supply of wireline and wireless communications services for the entire administration. It launched its GSM-1900 network in late 2003 and by mid-2004 had an estimated 5,000 customers. BTL, meanwhile, has seen its digital network go from strength to strength, though its analogue system is now in decline. At the end of June 2004 BTL had an estimated 67,000 strong customer base, of which 37,000 were connected to its GSM network. In total, at the end of June 2004 there were 72,000 wireless subscribers in Belize, a penetration rate of 24%.