The geography of the South Pacific region has made internet connectivity a serious problem for many of the remote islands. Submarine fibre-optic networks are expensive to build and maintain, with capital costs prohibitive for the smaller island communities. Some countries have to rely solely on geostationary satellites. As a result, bandwidth is limited and broadband prices are high.
In this environment, it is mobile technology which has thrived. In recent years BuddeComm has noticed an increase of mobile subscribers generally speaking across the board in the South Pacific – at the expense of fixed lines which are declining.
There are a number of reasons for this; including the realisation that mobile technologies are far more suited to providing services to the many islands spread across a vast geography. In addition, there are limited funds available for building telecommunications infrastructure so it must be directed towards the most economical and suitable technologies.
While mobile penetration is still low when compared to more developed markets; in most of the Pacific Island nations there is good mobile coverage in the capital cities and in some cases, there is also reasonable coverage across some of the more remote atolls.
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Having access to communication services is crucial to these island nations. They are all vulnerable to natural disasters such as cyclones and drought, as well as rising sea levels. In emergency situations the islanders need access to the outside world. In addition; telecommunications can assist in alleviating the isolation experienced by many of the more remote islands as well as provide important access to health care, education and government services.
Telecommunications also play an important part in economic stability. The Pacific Islands are highly dependent upon the tourism industry and the World Bank has recognised that improving connectivity in the Pacific is vital for growth in this sector. Complaints are often made by tourists regarding the poor network coverage and high service prices across the region.
In recent years, there have been significant progress in improving telecommunications services in the Pacific. Concern regarding climate change has ignited international interest towards the South Pacific as it is in the frontline for rising sea levels and natural disasters. Telecoms and digital technologies are being used to monitor the growth of climate change as this serious issue has repercussions for the entire international community.
As a result; various international funding, grants and private investment has been directed towards improving conditions, including telecoms infrastructure. International submarine cables are being deployed in some instances and satellite services are also being upgraded. One significant development underway is the agreement that Kacific Broadband Satellite has made with a number of Pacific Islands which will see vast improvements in satellite broadband access and speed.
– The Pacific Islands Telecommunications Association (PITA) is one of the key organisations promoting telecommunications services for the region.
– The difficult geographical terrain presents a great challenge for rural connectivity in nearly all of the Pacific Island Countries (PICs).
– A study by UNESCO estimated that increasing broadband penetration by around 10% can increase GDP by as much as 1.4% in low and middle income countries such as those in the South Pacific.
– The Solomon Islands has demonstrated some impressive figures when it comes to mobile uptake.
– The Federated States of Micronesia are well aware that to ensure a viable future for its citizens it needs to develop its telecoms infrastructure for the associated economic and social benefits.
– In an effort to boost tourism, a Smart Tourism initiative has been launched in French Polynesia which will use digital solutions to improve the tourism experience.
– Palau offers a well-developed mobile sector which has been recently boosted by satellite network capacity upgrades as well as a proposed submarine cable venture.
– Tonga is a now reaping the benefits of being connected to an undersea high-speed fibre-optic cable.
– Mobile subscriber penetration sits at around 40% in Tuvalu, compared to fixed broadband at only 10% penetration.
– Despite its small size, Guam’s telecom market is highly competitive, with three major companies providing both fixed line and mobile services.
– Network deployment costs are high in PNG due to the relatively low subscriber base, the impervious terrain, and the high proportion of the population living in rural areas.
– Fiji is a leader in the Pacific region in terms of development of its ICT sector and investment in telecoms infrastructure.
– The recently formed Amalgamated Telecom Holdings Kiribati Limited (ATHKL) quickly announced it would be performing the first phase of its improvements in Kiribati with 3G and 4G network upgrades deployed in some areas.
– New Caledonia has a well-developed telecoms sector for the South Pacific Region and there are various projects underway will help to improve both fixed and mobile services further.
– Telecoms services have progressed significantly in Vanuatu in recent years and in 2016 there have been two milestones reached with both the launch of LTE services by one of the leading players, Digicel, and the introduction of a rural satellite broadband service by Kacific.
– As a result of telecoms infrastructure improvements made in recent years, the Marshall Islands can now claim a mobile penetration of more than 30%.
– Samoa is beginning to address its international capacity issues with a major public-private project underway.
Companies mentioned in this report include:
Alcatel-Lucent, Amalgamated Telecom Holdings (ATH), Amalgamated Telecom Holdings Kiribati Limited (ATHKL), Amper SA, Asia Broadcast Satellite (ABS), A-Tel, Bmobile, Blue Sky Samoa, Citifon, Click TV, Computer Services Limited (CSL), DataNets, Datec, Digicel, DoCoMo Pacific, EMTV, Fiji International Telecommunications Limited (FINTEL), Fintel Internet Services (Kidanet), FSM Telecom Corporation (FSMTC), Galileo, Global Internet, Global Telecom Pacific Ltd, Greencom, GTA, Hawaiki Cable Ltd, HiTRON, Honotua Cable; Huawei, Inkk Mobile, Intelia, Interchange Cable Network, International Telecommunication Satellite Organisation (ITSO), IT&E, Kacific Broadband Satellite, O3b, Office des Postes et Télécommunications de Nouvelle-Calédonie (OPT-NC), Office des Postes et Télécommunications (OPT); Online South Pacific, Our Telekom (Breeze), Pacific Emerging Technologies (PET), PACTEL, Palau National Communications Corporation (PNCC), Palau Telecom, PNG DataCo, Samoa.ws, Southern Cross Cable Network (SCCN), Spim Ltd, Tahiti Nui Telecommunications, Telikom PNG, Telecom Fiji Limited (TFL), Telecom Services Kiribati Ltd (TSKL), Telecom Vanuatu Ltd (TVL), Telsat Broadband, Tonga Communications Corporation (TCC), Tonga Digicel (formerly TonFon), Tonga Cable, Tuvalu Telecommunications Corporation (TTC), The Asian Development Bank, The International Telecommunication Union, The World Bank, Unwired Fiji, Vihaan Networks Limited (VNL), Vini; Vodafone, WanTok Network.
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