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Costa Rica 2017 | TELECOMS & IT | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Jaime Palermo Quesada, General Manager of kölbi, on service penetration, investment in technology, and the broader trajectory of the market.

 Jaime Palermo Quesada
BIOGRAPHY
Jaime Palermo Quesada is the General Manager of the telecommunications area of the Costa Rican Electricity Institute (ICE) and of kölbi. He is also President of the Boards of Directors of Radiográfica Costarricense SA (RACSA) and Cable Vision of Costa Rica, CRICSA, and ICETEL. With more than 32 years' experience in the telecommunications sector, he joined ICE in 1982 serving clients. He is an industrial engineer with a master’s degree in business administration with emphasis in marketing, specialist in improvement of the administrative management in public companies, obtained in Italy, and a specialization in marketing of Kellogg School of Management of Northwestern University.

How has the company evolved since its incorporation?

The ICE is a state company that from the beginning was responsible for the development of telecommunications in Costa Rica. One of the main focuses at the beginning was on rural telephones and the expansion of fixed-line telephones across the country. We have gone through every different stage of development, and today we have an IP-based system. We have developed a 4G mobile network that has evolved from 2G and 3G, and we are improving coverage and service quality of the entire mobile network. What is more, we started to build up a brand for the telecommunications industry and put social and environmental responsibility at the forefront of our priorities, as well as human resources. This is when the logo of the frog and the name of the company kölbi were created. In 2011, we sold 1.25 million prepaid licenses, a strategy based on getting ready for further competition in the industry with the entry of foreign companies. Thanks to that decision, when these foreign firms first arrived, they saw a slightly more mature market in which we already had a strong position. Today, we have 4 million customers, which represents 60% of market share. In terms of income, 70% comes from individual customers, whereas the remaining 30% comes from businesses. In the business segment, we are also market leaders. However, when it comes to TV services, we only own 2% of the market share. One of our particularities is that we compete with all the companies operating in the IT industry in Costa Rica, which is currently at least 136 firms.

In which areas is kölbi investing the most?

We want to redefine our entire technological future, for Costa Rica has always been a leading and pioneering country in Latin America in terms of IT services. However, certain macroeconomic problems in Costa Rica led to a reduction of investment in IT, putting all that innovation on hold. We are trying to get back on track, which is why we have a project to implement fiber optics across the country. We have already started with small-scale projects and in highly targeted areas that have been successful. Costa Rica is a demanding and consuming society in terms of IT services and products. Today, we focus on renovating our infrastructure from copper to fiber optics in order to become a company providing tools and content to our customers, internet services, and over-the-top content on fully digital platforms through a robust network of high speed.

kölbi currently reaches 89% of Costa Rican territory and is the leading mobile service provider in terms of coverage. What strategy will you implement to keep this edge?

I was appointed General Manager in 2014. When I revised the current situation of the company, I understood that despite covering almost all the country's geography, this did not imply a good performance. In the last few years, we grew our number of customers significantly; however, investments in infrastructure did not follow at the same level. Our customers were not fully satisfied with our services, despite the wide coverage. We now focus on strengthening some areas of our coverage and optimizing our network, one of our main focuses since 2014. We have invested more resources in our data, amplifying licenses, and traffic controllers. We have also started the installation of new infrastructure spaces. One main objective is to provide a better customer experience to our users. All in all, we have doubled our capacity and coverage in mobile infrastructure since 2014. Finally, we invest in our people and train them in depth.

What are your priorities for 2017?

Our priorities are the introduction of the Fiber to the Home (FTTH); the finalization of content provision services; and the doubling of our mobile network points. We aim to introduce new technologies and services thanks to the multi frequency antennas we plan to install. Finally, we plan on implementing and expand the use LTE/4G technology for data.