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Cingular Wireless Caribbean Limited is no more.

In a hush-hush multi-million dollar deal that caught many in the telecoms industry by surprise, Irish-based mobile telecommunications giant Digicel has silently acquired the shares of Cingular Wireless Caribbean Limited.

After months of closed-door negotiations over the purchase of Cingular’s Caribbean operations, both companies formally released the details of the acquisition to the public Wednesday.{{more}}

Rumours about the multi-million dollar affair first surfaced after what seemed to be an aggressive marketing campaign from Digicel was nipped due to a cut in the company’s advertising budget late last year.

With Digicel’s Caribbean investments totaling more than $600 million, both companies remain tight-lipped on the exact price of the purchase.

But one thing that is certain about the new arrangement is that, by October 1 this year, well over 70,000 Cingular customers will be added to the list of Digicel users around the Caribbean.

Cingular Wireless, a joint venture between SBC Communications and BellSouth Corp relinquished its Caribbean operations in what they claimed was to allow them to concentrate more on their growing American market. The surprised sale comes only one year after Cingular’s $41 billion purchase from AT&T Wireless in February 2004.

Telecoms expansion

The Cingular acquisition carries Digicel miles ahead as the region’s premiere mobile provider. The deal expands Digicel’s GSM Pan-Caribbean network to over 12 million customers in 14 countries, once contractual arrangements are approved by regulators from the different islands where Cingular operates. The acquisition will expand Digicel’s reach to Bermuda, Anguilla, St Kitts and Nevis, Antigua and Barbuda, and Dominica in addition to nine existing markets, which include the recent addition of Haiti.

According to Digicel’s Public Relations Manager for the OECS, Jerry George, the move will see Cingular employees merging under the expanding Digicel team.

“We are currently assessing the needs of the entire operation and we are hoping to incorporate most of the employees from both companies,” George mentioned to Searchlight on Wednesday.

“Our expansion only gives us a better opportunity to continue producing the most innovative services here in St. Vincent and the Grenadines…there is no other company that has a better price package that ours,” George stated.

“There are some places locally were Cingular sites are available. We will be able to use those sites to enhance the quality of our service within the island,” he said.

George, while speaking to Searchlight on Wednesday confirmed that the acquisition was not an aggressive one on the part of Digicel as Cingular Wireless were willing to sell its Caribbean market share.

A release from Digicel quoted Founder and Chairman, Dennis O’Brien…

“We are looking forward to welcoming the Cingular Caribbean operations staff and customers to the Digicel family…our leading service and unmatched customer care continue to put us in a position of strength as we roll-out a seamless pan-Caribbean telecommunications network.”

New Markets

Under new CEO Colin Delves, the Cingular purchase comes on the eve of Digicel’s entrance into yet another Caribbean market is awaiting the outcome this week of an auction to secure a wireless license in Trinidad & Tobago, which has a population of 1.2 million

While the new arrangement tips Digicel as the leading mobile providers through out the Caribbean, Cingular Wireless was not so quick to relinquish its Puerto Rico operations. With one of the most advanced and fastest-growing telecom market in the region, Puerto Rico is among the leading countries in Latin America where both fixed-line and mobile penetration is concerned.

Apart from St Vincent & the Grenadines, Digicel also has operations in the Cayman Islands, Grenada, St Lucia and Barbados where it will acquire Cingular’s customer base.