Aug 14, 2020 Last Updated 10:45 PM, Aug 12, 2020

For the past several months if you are working in business, in government, for regional organisations or studying, you have almost certainly expanded your use of a raft of collaboration and meeting tools. You may have formed an opinion on Zoom vs Hangouts, logged into dozens of webinars, learnt the etiquette of virtual meetings, and digitalised processes that were once analog. In the Pacific region, you’ve probably also spent time grappling with meetings where the speakers can be likened to poorly-dubbed film actors, or the sound disintegrates into static.

A range of new submarine cables and improved satellite choices promise to improve this situation within months in several Pacific Island countries.

At the start of the pandemic, sector experts were concerned that the production of mobile devices and supply chain changes might slow the progress towards 5G in some markets, and that there might be issues keeping submarine cable in service, deployed or upgraded.

However the companies responsible for cable being laid and tested in our region claim the impact has been negligible.

A number of cables criss-cross the Pacific seabed.  Amongst the new ones coming online is the   Manatua-One Polynesia cable, which includes landings in French Polynesia, Cook Islands, Niue and Samoa. Targeted to go live last month, it is in the final stages of testing. The Coral Sea Cable System connects Port Moresby and Honiara with Sydney and the rest of the world. The Hawaiki Submarine Cable is owned by a company of the same name, and connects users in Australia, New Zealand, American Samoa, Hawaii, and the United States, with New Caledonia to be connected by the end of this year if it remains on schedule. The Southern Cross Next cable is due for commissioning in early 2022 , and will link Sydney, Auckland and Los Angeles, with critical international cable connectivity to Fiji, Tokelau and Kiribati. Palau is also looking towards installation of a second internet submarine cable, and last month Allcatel Submarine Networks was awarded a $40.7 million contract to build and deploy a second submarine cable, Gondwana 2 between Fiji and New Caledonia due for completion in early 2022. (For a more complete description of upcoming and existing cable networks, visit www.islandsbusiness.com)

There are also high hopes for improved service via satellite technology, such as the kind provided by Kacific, a satellite operator providing a high-speed broadband internet service in the South East Asia and Pacific Islands regions. Late last month Tuvalu’s government signed a five-year bandwidth capacity agreement with Kacific and Federated States of Micronesia has issued an individual operating license for Kacific to provide telecom services in the nation. 

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Related: Digitising remittance transfers in Fiji

A new deal could potentially provide more Pacific Island countries access to affordable Internet via submarine telecom cable. 

The multi-million dollar deal was jointly announced in New Zealand last week by its signatories Hawaiki Submarine Cable LP, American Samoa Telecommunications Authority (ASTCA) and American Samoa Hawaii Cable LLC (ASH). 

The three parties have direct interests in the newly installed Hawaiki Transpacific cable system which began commercial operations last year and links Australia and New Zealand to Hawaii (branching into American Samoa along the way) then to the U.S. mainland.    

“The multi-million dollar deal announced today brings three operators together to take advantage of the Hawaiki branch to American Samoa, securing trans-Pacific connectivity into the future and providing critical diversity to help drive ASH’s wholesale business and deliver fast, reliable international broadband to local operators and ISPs in American Samoa, Samoa, French Polynesia and other nations and territories,” the parties announced in a joint statement.

“ASH, jointly owned by Fiji’s ATH Group and the American Samoa Government, owns the Samoa to American Samoa (SAS) cable and allows Hawaiki bandwidth and circuits to reach beyond American Samoa to Samoa and all interconnected points, including French Polynesia, Cook Islands, and Niue (via the soon-to-be-RFS Manatua cable), as well as Fiji and Wallis and Futuna (via the Tui Cable, commissioned in 2018).”

ASTCA, a state-owned telecom in American Samoa, owns the 400km subsea branch that connects the Hawaiki trunk to the U.S. territory while Hawaiki Submarine Cable LP owns the cable system.

The Hawaiki cable system is 15,000km long, has a 67Terabit per second capacity, is carrier-neutral and includes stubbed branching units to allow potential future connections to New Caledonia, Fiji and Tonga.

Hawaiki CEO Remi Galasso described the agreement as an important milestone for communications in the South Pacific, forming the basis for future collaborations between the company and the growing number of carriers servicing the region.

“Bridging the digital divide in the Pacific is something that has been part of Hawaiki’s DNA from the beginning. In these challenging times, communications infrastructure and reliable connectivity have an even more critical role to play in supporting the continuity and development of businesses and communities in regions that have traditionally been underserved,” he said.

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