Papua New Guinea’s ability to handle greater volumes of data consumption is set to drastically increase as it expands its fibre backbone. Throughout 2016 and 2017 a number of strategic partnerships were struck to assist with the evolution of PNG’s technological architecture. Perhaps the most significant move as far as public commitment is concerned is the government’s decision to invest heavily in international connections, particularly a fibre backbone that is set to bolster the current international fibre capacity of 11.1 Gbps with an additional 8 Tbps.
Towards the end of 2016 the government contracted the services of Huawei Marine, the subsea cable division of the Chinese telecoms giant, to build the country’s backbone fibre connection.
Speaking with local media in October 2016 Paul Komboi, managing director of DataCo, said “This new system is very important to PNG as it includes not only a new submarine cable network but also internet gateways and data centres.” With a total design capacity of 8 Tbps the new subsea network will connect 14 major coastal centres as well as numerous islands directly to Jayapura in Indonesia. “This will improve the whole ICT infrastructure in the country and greatly increase network coverage, capacity and the availability of internet and broadband services to end users,” Komboi added.
According to initial media reports, the network will cover 55% of the population with the use of more than 5400 km of cable, while providing more than 70% of domestic bandwidth requirements. Once completed DataCo will be responsible for the day-to-day management of the network, which is expected to bring about a significant decrease to current wholesale bandwidth costs.
Picking Up The Pieces
While onlookers will be encouraged by the governments intent to develop broadband coverage, others remain sceptical as a result of previous projects that were set to strengthen capabilities were put on the back burner. Namely, the ICN-2 Melanesian cable project that was set to connect PNG through to Honiara in Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and then Fiji.
While the project was set to be completed by the end of 2016 it has since been halted despite receiving initial funding from Exim Bank of China. According to the World Bank, it was deemed that the underwater cable would not be cost effective.
At a cost of approximately $72m for 1000 km of underwater fibre-optic cables, the ICN-2 network would be costly to construct and operate partly due to a privately owned link between Fiji and Port Villa. This is in comparison to establishing a new link to Australia alongside the existing APNG2 cable, which would cost approximately $85m for 3000 km of fibre optic cable and be significantly cheaper to operate.
According to Une O’Ome, general manager of DataCo, the Melanesian cable, which began construction in 2015 stalled as a result of a lack of important market support. “The project is still under consideration,” O’Ome told OBG. “Though it is not a priority as far as the National Transmission Network (NTN) is concerned.” As of the second quarter of 2017 no official announcement had been made as to the completion of the subsea cable project. With no immediate date set for completion, the ICN-2 project appears to of lost traction. While low disposable incomes have historically restricted internet usage, the completion of PNG’s broadband backbone will undoubtedly act as an important catalyst for internet penetration in PNG, which will in turn aid the cultivation of PNG’s ICT sector in the long run. The creation of the $313m NTN, which being built using ExxonMobil’s existing data link in the southern Highlands and its LNG plant northeast of Port Moresby, will help to reshape the ICT landscape in PNG, and bring affordable internet access to millions of people across the country.
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