Telecommunications in the South Pacific is a security concern for Australia

Australia has stepped in to improve telecommunications systems in the South Pacific in the face of rising tensions with China, writes Paul Budde.

IN RECENT YEARS, it has become clear that Australia and Western countries in general need to take developments in the South Pacific more seriously. As China moves deeper and deeper into this region – based on quite different geopolitical international commitments – there is clear concern about its policy for the region.

After the nuclear submarine debacle with France, political ties were restored and France and Australia agreed to continue their cooperation in the South Pacific, where France has several overseas territories. Here too, telecommunications is a key issue. This will be discussed in a separate article.

Telecommunications is a critical issue and the Australian government has already intervened here twice. Once in relation to the submarine cable for the Solomon Islands (which will be discussed below) and more recently in relation to mobile infrastructure in Papua New Guinea.

Last year we began an annual roundup of telecommunications developments in the South Pacific and this is the 2022 update that I was able to piece together with researchers from BuddeComm.

This week we are focusing on submarine developments and next week other developments in the South Pacific telecommunications market will be discussed.

The Coral Sea Cable System, co-funded by Australia, now connects the Solomon Islands

As mentioned, geopolitical concerns have come to the fore as the Solomon Islands government pursues closer ties with China. It’s a growing source of tension with Australia, which is the Solomon Islands’ biggest aid donor. In April 2022, the country signed a security agreement with China, although full details of the agreement have not been released.

Elsewhere in the Pacific, international telecommunications connections remain a major challenge. This is why the Australian government intervened.

As a result, the Coral Sea Cable System linking Papua New Guinea to the Solomon Islands is now also linked by a feeder cable to a landing station in Sydney. The Australian government provided most of the funding for the Coral Sea cable system, with contributions and support from the governments of the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea.

The Coral Sea cable system is now connected to the Solomon Islands home grid. It also gave a real boost to local services. In particular, Internet services have improved considerably.

Mobile services have continued to grow in the Solomon Islands. 3G services became available in 2010, leading to an increase in mobile broadband adoption. Solomon Islands currently hosts three ISPs: Solomon Telekom, Bmobile and SATSOL. The fixed broadband services that underpin the development of a digital economy are largely limited to Solomon Islands government, businesses and educational institutions.

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The telecommunications infrastructure in the Solomon Islands continues to require significant investment due to the geographical composition of the islands. This poses a big challenge for rural connectivity in the country.

Although various international organizations such as the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank have taken particular interest in improving communication services in the Solomon Islands and the Pacific region in general, internet and broadband penetration remains weak. The provision of broadband infrastructure, especially in rural areas, is also hampered by land disputes.

The launch of the Kacific-1 satellite in late 2019 also improved broadband satellite capacity for the region, although for Solomon Islands telecom operators, satellite services are now widely used as a fallback for international traffic.

Over the past few years, the country has stabilized politically and economically, which, together with improvements in mobile infrastructure, has resulted in increased mobile penetration and slow adoption of mobile services. broadband. While the first Long Term Evolution (LTE) services were launched at the end of 2017 in the capital Honiara, the main platform for mobile voice and data services remains 3G, while in outlying areas GSM remains an important technology for service delivery.

On the consumer side, spending on telecommunications services and devices is under pressure due to the financial effect of large-scale job losses and consequent restriction of disposable income. However, the crucial nature of telecommunications services, both for general communication and as a tool for working from home, has offset these pressures. The market should therefore continue on a positive growth trajectory until 2022.

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Samoan government to take control of Submarine Cable Company

Like other Pacific Island countries, Samoa’s telecommunications sector has been hampered by a lack of international connectivity. While Samoa had access to the Samoa-American Samoa (SAS) cable laid in 2009, this cable has insufficient capacity to meet the country’s future bandwidth needs.

The problem was solved with two new undersea cables that became available in 2018 and 2019. These, combined with the Samoa National Broadband Highway (SNBH), have improved internet data speeds and reliability, and helped reduce the high costs previously associated with the Internet. access to Samoa. In April 2022, the Samoan government announced its decision to take control of the Samoa Submarine Cable Company, seeking the cable to generate additional revenue for the state.

The development of the Tui-Samoa submarine cable, which was ready for service in mid-2020, as well as the Samoa National Broadband Highway, are helping to increase internet speeds and reduce broadband prices debit in the country.

The Asian Development Bank estimated that Samoa had a bandwidth demand of 420 Mb/s in 2015, but projected this to increase to a bandwidth demand of 6 Gb/s in 2022 and 30 Gb/s d 2028. To this end, the Government of Samoa continues to invest in bringing high-speed telecommunications services to the country.

The Ministry of Communications and Information Technology has been allocated $8.8 million in the 2021/2022 budget. This includes provisions for projects such as the co-location of the Samoa National Broadband Highway as well as government investment in the Samoa Connectivity Project which involves the connection, via submarine cable, from Samoa to Southern Cross cable network in Fiji.

This series will continue next Wednesday and discuss the importance of the Fijian economy to Australia.

Paul Budde is a freelance columnist in Australia and Managing Director of Paul Budde Consulting, an independent telecommunications research and consultancy organisation. You can follow Paul on Twitter @PaulBudde.

Solomon Islands deal puts Australia in crosshairs of US and China

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