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US tourist taps into local Wi-Fi market  |  Written by jamaicaobserver.com   |  Sunday, 05 March 2006

It took just a few trips to Jamaica before Darryl Wehmeyer, a native of Atlanta, Georgia, came up with a business idea that he believed had potential for big returns.

As a tourist visiting friends, Wehmeyer was perturbed by the limited access to the Internet on the island. Unlike his experience in the United States, in Jamaica, he was unable to use the Internet anywhere within a large radius. Therefore, he decided on establishing a wireless land network company in Jamaica.

Wehmeyer relocated to Jamaica, and on March 26, 2001, founded Copia Wireless Communications Limited, a distributor of wireless networks and voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) products.

A major target market for the company was the hospitality industry - hotels and hospitals which lacked such services for patrons. Through an unlicensed frequency called WiFi (Wireless Fidelity) which allows users to connect in public areas called hot spots, Wehmeyer began participating in this untapped end of Jamaica's telecommunications market.

Today, the company boasts such clients as Red Bones, Cannonball Café, Heather's Garden Restaurant, D'Roof and Indies. The company also introduced the first Wi-Fi medical institution in the Caribbean - the Mandeville Hospital. Now, Wehmeyer is targeting the residential market, which he describes as being "under-served".

Through a wireless broadband network, Copia intends to provide wireless services to all demographics in Jamaica. Through this wireless technology, the service will be fully portable, and thus available "while moving in a car, bus or train".

He believes that the virgin nature of the Jamaican market makes it more attractive for an investor than the market of the United States. "Jamaica has a population of 2.6 million people but only 500,000 phone lines," notes Wehmeyer.

"The major reason for this disparity is the traditionally slow recognition by the incumbent provider, Cable & Wireless (C&W) to realize the full market potential for consumer services in the country. A large portion of phone lines are in the corporate area of Kingston, making the residential market an underserved market."

The wireless network will also offer VoIP services as well, an essential element in the Jamaican telecommunications market, which boasts a high percentage of long distance phone callers.

"VoIP is probably going to be the driving force of our product," he says. "Whether they are using our VoIP or someone else's, it's going to be one of the main ingredients. We will offer a voice service option to provide a local phone number and competitive rates for local and overseas calls."

To date, the company has invested US$2 million in the technology by Wehmeyer's estimate. It iscurrently being tested by internal focus groups, and he is optimistic that he will enjoy a substantial return on his investment.

However, he says his company has faced challenges with Jamaica's regulators.

"The largest challenge is working with the Spectrum Authority in order to allow us to come up with an affordable price for the market," notes Wehmeyer. "It's a new technology, there is no licence for it that fits with what we want to do from an economic standpoint that makes sense.We are not a cellular company, so they can't charge us as if we are Digicel."