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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!

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