Laqtel very confident, says Laquis
Thursday 23rd December 2004
Photo: KARLA RAMOO
Before last Friday, very few people knew the name Laqtel Ltd.
The company's anonymity changed, however, when it emerged as a bidder for one of two cellular concessions the Government intends to grant next year.
By virtue of their size and established regional presence, Digicel and Cingular Wireless are seen as frontrunners in the race for the two cellular concessions.
But Laqtel is "very, very confident" of being one of the two companies chosen, said Dr Joseph Laquis, a medical doctor who is listed in the company's proposal as a consultant. The selection of Laqtel will mean disappointment for either Digicel or Cingular.
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Part of Laquis' confidence "is based on the fact that we feel we have put together the best consortium."
The other consultants are former UTC executive director Henry Sealy, Roy Mitchell (public relations) and Eastman and Associates (human resources).
Laquis said the company's board is chaired by prominent attorney, Anthony Jacelon.
Jacelon is the treasurer of the ruling party.
The board also includes:
Magna Williams-Smith, the PNM's lady vice-chairman;
Dr Anthony Elias, the defeated PNM candidate for San Fernando West in 2000;
Mark Laquis, partner at Jacelon's law firm, Pollonais, Blanc, de la Bastide and Jacelon;
Victor Sooknarine, the managing director of Harricrete;
Stephen Scoon, the owner of a freight forwarding business;
Vijay Seegobin, accountant
Neil Seepersad, financial broker
Ronald Wilson, described as an executive director.
Questioned about the political complexion of the board, Laquis remarked that he had been a member of the PNM for 31 years, "so it stands to reason that my friends are PNM."
He stressed that Laqtel was a private company which had nothing to do with the government or the ruling party.
"There is no way someone of Anthony Lacelon's integrity would have accepted the chair of this company without knowing that it was a worthy venture and an admirable national cause," said Laquis.
Laquis' confidence also stems from the fact that Laqtel intends to deploy a third generation CDMA 2000 IxEV-DO voice and data wireless system.
The technology will be provided by Nortel which expects to launch the system in April next year. Nortel Networks, the Canadian telecom equipment giant, will be responsible for all engineering, installation and commissioning of the network.
CDMA, Laquis argues, is a reliable cellular system which would provide a stronger signal and better reach than GSM, a second generation technology.
Another Canadian company, Saskatchewan Telecommunications International has entered into a strategic partnership agreement with Laqtel to provide the commercial launch of the network as well as operations maintenance and on-going network optimisation.
Laqtel has also forged a partnership with Standards Distributors/ANSA McAL which will provide distribution through a national network of retail outlets.
Laquis out the cost of establishing a national CDMA system in T&T at between US$80 and US$100 million.
This will be financed by 30 per cent equity and 70 per cent debt which means the shareholders of the company have to come up with between US$24 million and US$30 million or close to $190 million.
Asked from where the Laqtel shareholders would source $190 million, Laquis said, "I am not at liberty to reveal where the money is coming from, except to say that we have lined up three very well known commercial banks to provide us with financing."
Laquis declined to name the banks.
He had no hesitation, however, in stating that Laqtel intends to work "very closely" with TSTT as it has already begun negotiations to co-locate its cell sites on TSTT's towers.
Laquis remarked that while Laqtel was negotiating with TSTT, other companies were out spending money to buy land and applying to the planning authorities for permission to put up cell sites.
"Those who have more money may not have more brains," said Laquis, adding that the fight was a straight case of a small company (David) taking on two large companies (Goliaths).
On the issue of rates, Laquis said while it may be difficult to calculate the rate structure before the cost of the spectrum is known, he expects that Laqtel's rates will be 40 per cent lower than the current TSTT rates.
"That means that if your bill is now $100, it will drop to $60."
Laqtel expects to achieve a 25 per cent market penetration within five years and is predicting that the monthly churn (the number of people to leave the incumbent) will be three per cent per month.
Laquis, 59, said the company also intends to apply for the RFPs for the fixed wireless cable and the Internet service.
He also remarked that putting together the cellular RFP cost the company $3 million.
"That was plenty of money for us to go into a venture we weren't even sure we would get," said Laquis, adding that he was certain that the process of selection would be "perfectly transparent".
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