Guam Wireless Telephone Company (GWTC) has announced plans to launch GSM mobile services on the Western Pacific island of Saipan. GWTC is currently applying for approval for its plan from the Saipan government and hopes to become the island’s first GSM operator by launching services under the HafaTEL brand in the second half of the year.
Saipan is located 120 miles north of Guam. It is part of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), a 14-island chain extending about 460 miles from the island of Rota in the south to the most northern island of Farallon De Pajaros. The CNMI has three major inhabited islands, Saipan, Tinian and Rota. The bulk of the 80,000-plus population reside on Saipan, which has a total land area of just 46.5 square miles. The islands’ communications market are currently dominated by Saipancell Communications, which launched services in 1992. Siapancell upgraded its CDMA2000 network to 1x in June 2004 and launched BREW services in March 2005.
Guam, a US territory in the North Pacific, has an estimated population of around 170,000. Despite being US citizens, island residents cannot vote in the US presidential elections, though they do vote for the country’s local government, currently headed by Governor Felix P. Camacho. The military installation on Guam is one of the most strategically important US bases in the Pacific. GWTC launched GSM-1900 mobile services under the HafaTEL brand in Guam in September 2001. It has around 70% coverage of the island and an estimated 10,000 subscribers. Its competitors are Saipancell’s sister company Guamcell and fixed line incumbent Guam Telephone Authority (GTA), which offers wireless services in addition to operating around 65,000 fixed lines on the island. Formerly owned by the government of Guam, in September 2004 US private equity fund Shamrock Holdings agreed to acquire GTA for USD150 million; the deal was completed in December and GTA is now wholly owned by Shamrock subsidiary TeleGuam Holdings.