Interview: Jacky Xu Qiang, CEO, Huawei Pacific
How would you characterise the competitiveness of Papua New Guinea’s ICT sector?
JACKY XU QIANG: In terms of ICT, PNG is an emerging market. You can find the best and newest technology here, like anywhere else, however Papua New Guineans started to use IT only recently. Therefore, the requirements are different. Papua New Guineans need 100-Mbps download speed, while in Japan and Malaysia, they need around 400 Mbps. Penetration and coverage are simply not high enough to label the country as competitive, though the conditions are improving.
PNG sees ICT as a key enabler for connecting people and supporting industries. Digital technology provides a platform where partners and peers can collaborate to create a more robust and symbiotic industry ecosystem. However, to improve the competitiveness of the sector the government and private sector must to work together to develop local talent. Companies recognise not only the untapped potential of PNG, but also the national interest to expand its digital highway. As a result, we see more and more competitors joining the market, which is good for price competitiveness. The price of data and voice is much higher than in other countries, however this is decreasing significantly. Since the formation of Kumul Telikom, telecoms prices have dropped by an average of 30%. Internet costs, meanwhile, are expected to decrease with the construction of new digital networks. Improved connectivity will create growth opportunities for local companies and attract more foreign investors.
In which areas is there potential for PNG to cooperate with regional partners?
QIANG: The country is becoming more aware of the importance of connectivity. From a physical perspective, we see investment in infrastructure, such as the Highlands Highway, though it is also happening on a digital level. PNG is starting to understand that in a modern world you need a digital platform that not only offers the same opportunities as those in the region, but also one that can connect to the surrounding countries. Current negotiations seem to be making space for such endeavours. Cables are becoming increasingly important in the South Pacific, including Fiji. It makes internet and doing business more stable and reliable.
PNG is probably going to have its own submarine cable in collaboration with regional partners facing similar challenges and needs. The biggest obstacle is not the actual provision of the network – the submarine cable can be finished in two years – more challenging is how to align the interests of the countries involved. This challenge needs to be addressed sooner if the region wants to make more efficient use of its strategic position, and events like APEC could help in this endeavour.
What are the obstacles to improving the digital landscape in PNG, and how can they be addressed?
QIANG: Coverage and penetration are currently insufficient in PNG. The country needs further infrastructure investment to be more competitive. For example, in Shenzhen, China, we have 12m people covered by 36,000 coverage sites. Malaysia, with 30m people, is being covered by 34,000 sites. In PNG we have 8m people who are covered by 1700 sites.
PNG deals with a lot of unique challenges. The country is known for challenging geographic conditions that make it almost impossible to lay down fibre connections. However, a country like New Zealand deals with the same issue. Modern wireless towers or satellite connections are available, and PNG can learn from the experience of other countries. Another issue is the lack of traditional infrastructure. When ICT providers have to build roads themselves, you cannot speak of a competitive environment. This is not the only problem; ICT developers have to use land to build their sites. Most land is privately owned and it is difficult to deal with the owners. Business interests should be better matched with public needs and supported by the government.
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