Aliv awaits 'big test' in Bimini

By NEIL HARTNELL

Tribune Business Editor

nhartnell@tribunemedia.net

Aliv was yesterday awaiting the outcome of its "big test" in Bimini, having experienced "no issues at all" with its network infrastructure during Hurricane Irma to-date.

Damian Blackburn, the mobile operator's top executive, told Tribune Business the company was eagerly waiting to see how its network held up amid the flooding impacting Bimini.

"It's obviously still going through Bimini and Grand Bahama," he said of Hurricane Irma, but so far the network's held up really well; no issues at all.

"We're waiting for it to go through Bimini, which is the big test. It's bad there with flooding. But we've been working through the storm, and thank God it wasn't as bad as forecast. The network's performed as it does every day. There was no challenge in performance during the storm or after."

Mr Blackburn said that while "isolated" Aliv mobile tower sites had lost commercial power, its subscribers would have experienced no service interruptions because back-up generators and/or batteries would have kicked-in immediately.

The Aliv chief said the lessons learnt from Hurricane Matthew had proven invaluable, as the mobile operator had this year ensured that all its 146 locations were equipped with both eight-hour batteries and generators with five days' fuel supply.

Many, but not all, of Aliv's mobile sites were equipped with such redundancy when Matthew hit, meaning several went down when Bahamas Power & Light (BPL) power was lost.

"All the work we did on generators and batteries made the difference," Mr Blackburn said. "Last year we planned, but we didn't have back-up power at every site, whereas we did this year.

"We had a plan, but did not have to use it because commercial power stayed up. It's all good."

Mr Blackburn, though, said Aliv's plans to launch services in the southern Family Islands before Christmas 2017 could be impacted by Irma-related damage on those islands.

Inagua, Ragged Island and Acklins appear to have suffered most, although damage was also reported on Mayaguana and Crooked Island.

With regulators mandating that Aliv and its Bahamas Telecommunications Company (BTC) rival co-locate, or share the same mobile sites, where possible, Mr Blackburn said damage to its competitor's facilities might delay its plans.

"These plans might change a bit depending on how much recovery efforts are required by BTC, but we'll know in the next week," he explained, adding that Aliv and BTC were to co-locate at 60 per cent of sites.

Aliv also requires transmission from BTC, and Mr Blackburn reiterated: "If they are necessarily distracted by hurricane recovery, it might affect our own roll-out plans. We've started our preparations, and have given forms out to a lot of the evacuees."

Meanwhile Anthony Butler, president and chief executive of Cable Bahamas, Aliv's 47.25 per cent controlling shareholder, said its own network infrastructure had largely held up well in the Bahamas.

"I don't think we've dodged a bullet; I think we've dodged a missile here in the Bahamas," Mr Butler told Tribune Business of Hurricane Irma.

However, Cable Bahamas' $100 million worth of Florida acquisitions, now consolidated under the Summit Broadband name, have not been so lucky since their services are concentrated in the state's south-west and central regions - directly in Irma's path.

"The Bahamas for the most part has been spared, and we will be looking to assist our colleagues in Florida as they did for us last year after Matthew," Mr Butler said. "They came for Grand Bahama, and that will be reciprocated."

Mr Butler said Cable Bahamas' Bahamian restoration plan had begun on Saturday, with repair crews expected to be finished dealing with "isolated outages" yesterday.

The company is planning to send teams to Andros, Exuma and Inagua once Lynden Pindling International Airport (LPIA) re-opens, with a satellite dish needing to be placed "back on station' in the latter island.

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