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Technology in Trinidad: 10 years behind its time?

Posted by on 18/03/2011


Trinidad and Tobago is one of the few blessed countries in the world, mainly because of its oil and gas reserves and relatively stable economy. However, with so much money and business potentials floating around, why has technology taken a backseat on the road to development? The past and present governments have been focusing on trying to achieve First World status by investing more in natural resources and the import/ business, but why have they forgotten the major role technology can play in getting there faster?

i’ve decided to touch on just a few of the many pitfalls in the technological arena.

online credit card gateways

with importing/exporting being such a big business in t&t, many business owners have expressed interest in expanding their operations into the online arena, but have found themselves between a rock and a hard place because of the lack of credit card facilities to enable receiving payments via the web. unless you can afford an expensive service from rbs, or have a bank account in country like the united states or the united kingdom, you would be out of luck.

there are many online financial intermediaries which offer simple send/receive services for online retailers. some of them include paypal, moneybookers and alertpay. as many online shoppers and business entrepreneurs know, you can only link a credit or electron card to these accounts to send cash, whether it be to pay for something or transfer to another account. there are no facilities in place for them to receive money via the web, which means it would be impossible to carry out an online business that deals with taking cash in exchange for goods/services.

i recently called up paypay to find out what the situation was regarding trinidad and according to one of their supervisors, trinidad does not have the technology nor the proper legislature in place to allow for such services. they did say that they are in talks with the government about rectifying the problem, but this has been the same response for the past few years, which means nothing is coming about from the situation.

i then called the banker’s association of trinidad and tobago and asked them about the situation and they also mentioned that it was in the pipeline, but they couldn’t comment on the progress of things. the ministry of trade also confirmed that no laws are in place for such transactions, and they don’t know when it will come up for debate. as a result, the banks are still unable to offer online credit gateway services as a result of the legal limitations.

with these disappointing results in mind, it seems trinidadians are limited to the brick-and-mortar franchises they are accustomed to. even jamaica has a much more advanced banking system than ours, yet their economy is no where near as sustainable as the one in trinidad.

residential/mobile internet

in a world where residential customers are now getting access to technologies such as dsl, cable and satellite broadband internet, many in first world countries enjoy speeds of 10mbps and above for a relatively low price, with the few occurrences of downtime causing many frowned faces. however in trinidad, it seems only one provided (flow) offers comparable speeds, but not near as low as the prices offered in the us.

surprisingly similar flow packages in jamaica are half as expensive in as in trinidad, yet both countries share the same caribbean pipeline. unfortunately, many customers still complain about reliability and traffic issues during peak hours. for a network with so much potential, flow still has a lot of do to meet up to the standards of first world providers.

the big laughingstock though is blink. currently, they are the only dsl provider in trinidad mainly because they had the telephone infrastructure in place to support the service from the beginning. however, any blink/tstt subscriber can give a horror story about the dsl service, whether it be constant disconnections, horribly slow speeds and poor overall customer service.

over the past few months, they have been carrying out “so-called” upgrades, which never seem to be completed based on the slow speeds experienced. Sadly enough, the CSRs find ways of throwing the blame on the customers’ computers rather than admitting that a problem exists on their end. At least Flow has the courtesy to let its customers know when upgrades will take place. Prices also seem to be one of the biggest problems, because when compared to services offered by AT&T in the US.

For instance, a 3.0Mbps plan is priced at US $14.95 per month, which a 2.0Mbps Blink plan costs about US $37 a month. If it were not for competitors on the broadband market, Trinidadians might have had to still pay hundreds of dollars for a 256kbps connection. Overall, residential customers are still putting up with substandard service for a price that is through the roof.

Let’s now move on to the interesting bit: Mobile Internet. In the times where 3rd and 4th Generation mobile Internet are one of the most popular web services in the mobile world, Trinidad has yet to see a full scale 3G service for mobile customers.

Yes, TSTT does offer 3G for corporate PC users, but it seems that they are only now implementing the technology to allow for 3G and 4G access on the mobile platform, at what I guess may be very high prices (as usual). So what do people have to settle for? 2G EDGE of course.

Both Digicel and bMobile offer 2G EDGE service, which allows for 32-48kbps of download at about TT $150 per month. With so many users switching to smartphones, why hasn’t a relevant 3G or 4G network been in place to deal with such customers?

The problem somewhat lies in the fact that the Blackberry Internet Service has become such a hit among Trinidadians. Users have come to accept slow speeds, just to be part of the “in crowd” and mostly for the “free” BBM service which comes along with the plan. So what about the rest who own iPhones and Android devices? Either they can take the very slow EDGE service (which also services Blackberry mobiles) or use WiFi at their homes or at Hotspots, which are significantly faster.

3G has been in existence since 1992, and officially went mainstream from 2001 and onwards but we now live in the year 2011 and Trinidadians still have not been able to experience 3G service in their homeland.

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  • The Mage

    We have been behind in technology because the country is run by old wealthy farts who never saw or realized the importance of becoming I.T. Literate and Savvy.. they do not understand I.T., They do not understand its importance, They do not see how it saves them money in the longrun in a pathetically blind sort of way, and they do not value I.T. Resources and personnel on the scale that they should be. At this time Trinidad should place a very high importance on I.T. Personnel and developing this country’s I.T. Evolution. To realize that sitting in front of a computer and 2 clicks and a problem is solved is not what it’s about, but what goes on in the mind of I.T. personnel during those 2 click, to make the right “2 clicks” that get the problem solved in smallest amount of time with the least repurcussions. They rather see a technician use 40 clicks to do something that could have been done in 5, that way they say “ahhh yess, im getting value for my money” little do they know that the 2 click technician is the better one in the field to have in your company. The one who walks out the office 2 minutes after a problem is reported and says “Done”!

  • Oudin Samuel

    Brilliant article, it has addressed many issues which has always been talked about in many small circles. The world has shifted to an information Technology age and it’s about time not only Trinidad & Tobago but the Caribbean as a whole begin to change their mindset and begin working towards catching up or forever be left in the dust. Recently I had a conversation with one of my colleagues and he made a very important statement. He stated that “The things which the Caribbean was once known for as a result of producing is no longer relevant because the European, US, etc. have came here learned how to do it and can now produce it for themselves” So now we are only known as a party hot spot and vacation destination.

    Trinidad is a blessed with the resources of oil but i do believe a lot needs to be done in field of information technology, Jamaica and Barbados are leaders in the Caribbean so far their mindset are slowly changing and this is something Trinidad need to emulated. I have no doubt in the ability as a country to do so but the matter that remains is when.

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