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Can (and Will) ICE Cellular Survive?

April 12th, 2011

ICE Offices - Cost RicaOver history, I suppose most monopolies were not good for their customers…. certainly some of the early ones in the US were not. One exception we old folks remember was AT&T and their technical arm, Bell Laboratories.  They provided world class telephone service and technology that most certainly allowed the USA to become a worldwide business and technological powerhouse.  They offered excellent services, excellent customer support, excellent technology and all at an excellent price.

However…  The thing about being a monopoly is that, if you want to,  you can pretty much give the finger to your customers every day for years and know they must just accept the insult.  There is no option. You own the marbles and anyone who wants to play must play by your rules.  You set the (cellular) rates (which, by the way and in the case of ICE are REALLY very good!), and make all the rules your customers must obey if they want to have cell phone service.

Now in some cases, the customers do not know they are being maltreated because there is no other option, so they believe this is as good as it gets! Let the learning curve begin!

The bad things about being a monopoly, though, is that for good or bad, your monopoly can end, in this case as a result of the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA).  The bigger bad thing is that a lot of those customers that you mistreated and abused for many years have long memories.

Interested in this topic? Read on!

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ICE and Apple! Now THIS should be good!

April 8th, 2011

Many years ago in a universe far, far away, I was one of the very early Apple dealers in the US.  In fact, it was so many years ago that Apple did not even sell directly to its dealers.  It used distributors. Yeah, I am that old… ugh. I was also a dealer when Apple fired its distributors and took all dealer sales direct. Now the one thing that has not materially changed in all those many years is Apple’s position toward technical support and customer service. They do NOT screw around.  It is a huge priority at Apple and regardless of whether you by an iPad, Mac, an iPhone or any Apple branded product, you will get the best support and service available on earth.  Don’t believe me?  Try a web search for something like “Best & worst computer tech support” or “Best & worst (technical) customer service”.  You’ll see.

So you can imagine my surprise when I open Costa Rica’s major newspaper, LA NACIÓN, this morning to be greeted by a couple of articles telling me how Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad (ICE), the state telephone and Internet monopoly, is telling everyone that ICE will soon be authorized to sell the iPhone 4 by Apple.

Interested in my two cents?  Read on!

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Leaked Wikileaks Embassy Cable – Costa Rica

April 7th, 2011

I am sure one of the jobs of any United States Embassy regardless of location is to constantly evaluate the host country in terms of  law, infrastructure, political persuasion, stability, attitude towards the USA, geographical considerations and probably a bunch of other stuff of which I have no idea…. like maybe the cool spy stuff! They likely collect info in many ways, but I am not at all sure of the accuracy of their sources.

In fact, one of my favorite sources for pretty excellent info regarding Costa Rica is the good ol’ CIA!  Their World Factbook Costa Rica is handy and is quite accurate. A lot of the info can be really useful to folks studying Costa Rica, planning to move or relocate here, considering opening or moving  a business operation to the country and for many other reasons.

Costa Rica newspaper La Nacion recently made a deal with those idiots at Wikileaks to get copies of various cables sent by various US diplomats to the State Department that pertain to Costa Rica.  If you wish to download a copy of the cable I will be discussing, just click here. Now when you do that, you will supposed see the actual document submitted 4 April 2007, by Laurie Weitzenkorn, an official of Public Affairs U.S. Embassy, but other news sources (La Nacion etc)  have published  lists of comments that do not appear on that document and while I am pretty sure they are accurate, I have not been able to track down the actual Wikileaks document.  All have been published in various online or actual newspapers. The comments by Weitzenkorn and others are a few years old, and perhaps my readers would like to know my thoughts as to whether some of these issues are still valid. Cables like these give the viewpoint of a single person whom we do not know. Did they live here for a a few weeks. months or years? Where did they get their info?  Was/is it biased?  Quien sabe?

Anyway, here are excerpts… some topics I think might be of the most general interest.  If interested, read on!

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ICE Pulls a Fast One and Tim Switches to 3G – Big Time!

March 26th, 2010

OK… I give up!

As many folks know, I have been a staunch proponent of the old TDMA cell phones for… well forever! They worked and worked well.  Real workhorses. I hated the GSM phones and I still do.  However, my wifey switched to the new 3G system a few weeks ago, and I was so impressed (we actually had cell phone service in my office between San Jose and the SJO airport!) that I went out and bought one for me.

Now, after testing it and playing with it, I am ready to endorse the new 3G system. I did not order the Internet option as 1. is it too expensive and 2. My Ipod Touch does a far better job and has full wireless. Still… the 3G service is far better than the old GSM system.

If this topic interest you… read on! Continue reading »

TDMA System Will Not Be Discontinued – 3G Coming with Reduced Service

November 27th, 2009

cellAs many of my readers know, there are two cell phone systems here.  One is called TDMA, also known ss “the old system” and equally accurate, “The system that actually works!”.

The second is GSM and truly  is lousy, but requires a more expensive phone that is more sexy, and everyone knows, women go for a guy with a sexy phone even if it does not work. The GSM system was installed by Alcatel a French company, apparently after they paid a few bribes to various government and ICE officials.  As a matter of fact, January marks the month for the trial of still another ex-president of Costa Rica who alledgedly accepted the chorizo (bribe).  Costa Rica seems to routinely send ex-presidents to jail, the last one just a few weeks ago!

So what is happening? If this topic interests you, read on!

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Internet & Commmunications in Costa Rica. Peace or War?

August 14th, 2009

leapFor a long time,  the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad (ICE and pronounced EEEE-SAY) has enjoyed a monopoly on a wide variety of services. The two biggies are communications (cell and home phone service) and Internet connectivity. The end began with the passage and ratification of the Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) then last year the Ley General de Telecommunicaciones broke monopoly on telephone and internet services in Costa Rica enjoyed by ICE.

A lot of people think that now there will be wholesale changes now that ICE will face competition.  I am not so sure… at least in the short term.  Let’s examine what has been happening. If this topic interests you, read on!

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Huawei Wins $235 Million 3G Phone Bid

January 13th, 2009

huaweiAs most of you know, I am generally not a  fan of ICE, the nation’s soon to be ex-communications monopoly, but although they are, as usual, about three years late,  Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad (ICE) finally gave China’s Huawei Technologies the preliminary OK for a 235-million-dollar contract to install a third-generation (3G) system for 935,000 customers in Costa Rica.

Final approval must come from the Comptroller (Costa Rica’s equivalent to the General Accounting Office) before the deal is finalized.  Huawei won in a bidding war against Sweden’s Ericcson and China rival ZTE Corporation

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ICE’s Latest Fiasco

August 13th, 2008

Back in June, I wrote about ICE’s plan to discontinue the TDMA cellular phone system beginning in 2009. I had my doubts that this would happen, but I wrote about it anyway.

Some background for readers. There are two cellular systems here, TDMA being the oldest and the only one the works pretty much all of the time, and the GSM system, that should work better, but does not. In fact, it works poorly at best. Callers often get the “Try again later” message and even when there is cell service, connections are not always stable. In general, TDMA is the way to go though there are a few locations (Dominical, Nosara and Samara come to mind) where the only system that works well is a GSM phone. So you want a TDMA phone? Interestingly, there are no more new TDMA phones available in Costa Rica. Any you buy are reconditioned. Besides… there are no phones lines available anyway. Sheesh!

The plan to discontinue the TDMA system was based on ICE planned upgrading of the current GSM system to the Third Generation GSM known as 3G, a vastly superior communications system (and part of Apple’s new iPhone configuration). It is faster and offers a ton of options including Internet. Of course future success would also be based on having the towers available, etc… but that is a different story.

In any case, ICE’s plans were basically correct and once installed and the tower location issues fixed, it should have allowed for the discontinuation of TDMA and offered users a fine, though more costly, solution. Of course THAT was before ICE sent out the bids to install the new 3G system.

The bids went out and only one company bid the project, Huawei Technologies. Well that would be fine as Huawei is most certainly a capable business partner, but ICE planned a budget of $224 million and Huawei submitted a bid of $580 million. Oops! Did someone make a really big error in calculation? As ICE has a history of poor planning, this would not be a really big surprise. In fact, it appears that (though I cannot confirm this), ICE changed the bid specs in June, 2008 adding 500 terminals to the specs but expecting no increase in cost. Huh? I admit to not knowing what is a terminal… but adding 500 of anything would seem to me to be an additional expense that needed to be considered.

Of the six bidders, FIVE (like the Ericsson de Costa Rica (current provider of one of the country’s two GSM networks), Continuex S.A. (distributor of Samsung in Costa Rica, ZTE Corp. and Nokia Siemens Network) decided not to bid citing fears of not being able to deliver to ICE’s specs.

So now what? Who knows?? The $356 million difference is huge and ICE clearly will have to go back to the planning stage. It seems unlikely they will or even can accept Huawei’s bid. They do not have the funding… or maybe they do!

Just this week, ICE announced that they wish to expand services to other Central American countries. Of course those of you who are skeptics might suggest that ICE put its own house in order before planning such an expansion…. the more pragmatic might just suggest ICE forego expansion and use THAT money to get a good funcional and working GSM system.

As always… more shall be revealed!

A Reader Asks About the Effects of CAFTA

July 9th, 2008

Tonight I received a comment from a reader… and it pushed my rant button. I may be completely reading the comment incorrectly and assuming a wrong tone or meaning… and if I am, I apologize now… but the rant is still coming as I am replying to many others who I am sure I read correctly!

Here is her email, and if the topic interests you (and you can deal with my rant)… read on!

My family plans to relocate to Costa Rica, and I would like to know what your thoughts are regarding the recent activity by the Costa Rican Congress ending it’s 84 year old insurance, and telecom monopoly (CAFTA). How do you think this is going to effect the citizens of Costa Rica that have enjoyed a universal health care system, and what do you think the implications are for Americans residig in Costa Rica, that have been able to partake in this system?.

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ICE to Discontinue TDMA Cell Phones in 2009

June 15th, 2008

Those of you who live in Costa Rica are probably quite familiar with the cellular phone system here and most of you are also aware of just how lousy is the GSM system in particular. TDMA is still the only reliable system here in Costa Rica.

To provide a bit of background for newcomers, visitors and tourists, there are currently two cell phone systems here in Costa Rica. The first, TDMA , often referred to as “the old system” and GSM, “the new system”. New is better, right? Often true, but in this case… totally not true.

The GSM system was installed some years ago by Alcatel, a French company under contract to ICE the government-run monopoly that controls all telecommunications in Costa Rica. Apparently not satisfied with just trying to win this huge contract in a competitive manner, Alcatel decided to spend some cash in order to bribe some key decision makers in ICE and in the Costa Rican government. About $11 million as I recall! This was also distributed to at least two and probably three ex-Presidents of Costa Rica, two of whom spent some time in prison for accepting these bribes, and a third who is currently hiding out in Switzerland, unable and apparently unwilling to return to Costa Rica for fear of also passing a few hours in the slammer.

This is important to know because the GSM system installed by Alcatel simply did not and still does not work well at all… and it will soon be the only system available.

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