Digicel boss expands into subsea cable project

By:
Alan Burkitt-Gray
Published on:

Digicel’s owner Denis O’Brien identified as backer of Caribbean’s Deep Blue Cable

Denis O’Brien, owner of Caribbean and Pacific mobile operator Digicel, is the main shareholder behind Deep Blue Cable, which is planning a subsea fibre network around the Caribbean.

Deep Blue Cable is a newcomer to the subsea cable market. Last month it announced a contract with TE SubCom to build and deploy the system.

But the company has never previously admitted that O’Brien, an Irish businessman, was its key backer. Now Jamaica’s Daily Gleaner newspaper has revealed that O’Brien is its main shareholder.

Digicel is privately owned by O’Brien, who made his first telecoms fortune in Ireland with mobile phone operator Esat, sold to BT in 2001. Shortly afterwards he won a licence to build a mobile operator in Jamaica, in competition with incumbent operator Cable & Wireless. Jamaica is still Digicel’s biggest business.

The Daily Gleaner asked Deep Blue CEO Stephen Scott about its ownership. “Deep Blue Cable and Digicel Group have a common shareholder, but Deep Blue Cable has its own management team and is separate and distinct from Digicel Group,” he said.

The information does not immediately imply that Digicel’s subsea business will move from rival operators, including Cable & Wireless, now owned by Liberty Global, to Deep Blue – but O’Brien has clearly spotted an opportunity in the market.

Scott said in July when the TE SubCom deal was announced: “The Deep Blue cable system will play a critical role in serving developing Caribbean countries that are now experiencing a surge in demand for advanced telecom services and currently rely on fibre-optic connectivity that is technologically and economically disadvantaged.”

Deep Blue’s website says it is “an independent company incorporated in Saint Lucia with NOC [network operations centre] services from mainland US”, but says nothing about its ownership. The site lists Scott as CEO, plus five other executives, but not O’Brien.

The company plans an extensive network, with more than 40 landing points from Florida in the north and Trinidad and Tobago in South America. Connections to Colombia and Panama are indicated for phase two.

“With a contract in force, it is anticipated the route survey will commence in August 2017. Manufacture and installation will follow in 2018 and 2019,” says the website, which says the cable will be ready for service in December 2019.