EYES ON THE PRIZE

Panama 2019 | TELECOMS & IT | INTERVIEW

Digicel is the most technologically advanced telecoms service provider in Panama and renowned for serving underserved markets across the world.

Ana Patricia Salazar
BIOGRAPHY
Ana Patricia Salazar graduated in business administration from Atlantic University in the US. She previously served as Marketing Director at L’oreal and joined Digicel Honduras in 2008, where she has held several positions in countries around the region. She came to Panama in 2017 as project manager and is currently the CEO of Digicel in Panama.

With a strong presence in the market since 2001, what have been Digicel's achievements?

We have a strong presence in the Caribbean. We originally launched in 2001 and were in a roll-out mode for 10-12 years, launching in 31 markets. The telecoms industry today is in a phase of transformation and reinvention. We continue to perform well in the Caribbean, although telecoms companies around the rest of the world are losing 3-6% of their revenue. What is interesting is that business solutions have been our main area of growth over the past two years. Everything related to the IoT, business solutions, and ICT solutions is growing by double-digits in the Caribbean. Mobile revenues are flat, or growing moderately, but we are compensating for this with growth in the ICT sector.

How does Panama fit into the company's operations?

We have been operating in Panama for the past 10 years, but we did a relaunch in 2018 and transformed the business nearly into a greenfield operation in Panama. It took us one year to do the whole relaunch because we looked at every single business area and element. It always starts with technology and the network. In order to be the market leader, we have to become the operator of the future, staying three or four steps ahead of our competitors. To date, we are the only provider that offers LTE Pro (4.5G) in Panama. We are able to deliver higher speeds and optimize our spectrum so that customers can have a better experience.

How would you describe the milestones behind winning the Speed Test Award 2018?

It was exciting because it was the first time the award was given in Panama. We knew because of the way we built the network and its spectrum that we had a considerable advantage over our competitors. Ultimately, we were three to four times faster than the competition.

How has Digicel worked to improve national coverage and penetration in the country?

When we launched in 2018, we did so with 30% more LTE penetration than anyone else in the market. We had to choose between starting with LTE only in main cities, a traditional approach, and then growing it progressively, or going all in. Our approach made LTE available to people who had never had access to it before.

What main goals would you like to achieve?

We are focused 100% on LTE and only sell LTE handsets. The fiber-optics network capacity we have built is ready for 5G and other ICT and business solutions. While we were focused on consumers, we were building our capabilities in terms of ICT and business solutions in parallel. In the innovation labs, we are setting up products specific for Panama. The government aims at wholesale digitalization, and the market is ready for it because LTE penetration is there, though the tools are still lacking for full conversion. Thus, we have invested heavily in products designed to automate processes for the government; we also build data centers for the banking system.

How can Digicel promote social benefit while generating economic growth?

It all comes back to the roots of Digicel. Denis O'Brien, our chairman, obtained a license for a telecom operator in Ireland, but instead of that, he decided that Europe was already too complicated and that there were other underserved areas in the world with low penetration. He saw the opportunity of meeting the needs of emerging markets. Transportation and logistics in the Caribbean are challenged by the sheer range of islands and extreme weather conditions. Yet, such conditions also offer opportunities to serve an underserved market.