|Issue:||Asia-Pacific I 2015|
|Topic:||Bridging the Digital Divide in the Pacific Islands|
|Title:||Senior VP Sales & Marketing|
Richard Carden joined SpeedCast as the SVP Sales & Marketing in 2013. Carden leads SpeedCast’s Global sales & marketing organization focused on reinforcing the company’s competitive position, driving synergies across the merged organization, plus growing revenues and market share. Richard has over twenty five years International sales and senior management experience in the Telecoms and financial industries, the last 15 years based in APAC.
The Pacific’s mobile networks continue to upgrade to 3G and 4G, the spread of the mobile Internet has enabled the region to leapfrog traditional computer-based Internet connections. In some of the islands, desktop Internet is still expensive and is not widely accessible, making it not as convenient as mobile connections.
The Pacific Islands are sparsely populated, comprising 22 culturally diverse, small countries and territories with a combined population of just over ten million. This population is dispersed across hundreds of small islands and atolls, and the region’s distance from global economic centres makes for some of the most remote countries and territories in the world. So how can we overcome the inherent digital divide between the Pacific Islands and the rest of the world? This article explores the early funding and implementation of ICT technologies as well as the latest trends contributing to faster access rates, reduced prices, higher levels of adoption and what is making some of the Islands a true member of a global economy.
The term “digital divide” refers to an existing gap between those who do have ready access to Information and Communications Technology (ICT) and those who do not.
Until about a decade ago, the digital divide in the Pacific Islands was strongly apparent as the region was served exclusively by satellite due to a lack of reliable infrastructure, high bandwidth costs and low levels of adoption.
As broadband network access started defining the way humans live and work, and the Pacific Region expanded its educational, medical and entrepreneurial activities, the demand for basic voice and data communications in these areas has become critical. Consequently, a number of frameworks for funding and social adoption of ICT were developed including those by the Pacific Island Countries and Territories (PICTs), International Telecommunications Union (ITU), Council of Regional Organizations in the Pacific (CROP), as well as regional initiatives such as PACRICS and MEDINET Vanuatu. At the same time, the Pacific region went through telecommunications deregulation and reform. This began in 2003 in Tonga and over subsequent years occurred across most countries in the region. Some of these reforms were supported by development partners including the International Finance Corporation and the Australian Government (through AusAID).1 (source http://www.lowyinstitute.org/publications/digital-islands-how-pacifics-ict-revolution-transforming-region)
Marking an inflection point, the number of courses delivered online by the leading education providers, such as University of South Pacific, grew exponentially with courses being adopted by the islands of Fiji, Tonga, Vanuatu, The Solomons, Kiribati and Tuvalu. E-Learning practices were also adopted in most rural schools and learning institutions. As an example, the MEDINET Project in Vanuatu demonstrated how well-connected medical facilities can deliver higher quality of service and greater efficiencies in the medical field. The entrepreneurial field saw rapid development of Small Office/Home Office (SOHO) solutions and more and more government and business programs were delivered online.
In 2011, the Bank of South Pacific demonstrated how mobile internet technology can transform the lives of rural and remote communities by implementing a new rural banking initiative aimed at delivering banking services in PNG through a combination of wireless-enabled branches and phone banking. Later, this new network was extended by a range of phone banking services and demonstrates how rural and remote communities can benefit from ITC adoption.
Together with the global initiatives and programs that made telecommunications more easily accessible and affordable came the technological innovation and increased competition. Innovation has driven down the costs of bandwidth and equipment and many service providers were beginning to see the Pacific Islands as an underserved, yet an attractive niche market.
So what is driving such a rapid adoption rate?
First is the cost of adoption. Over the past ten years, there has been almost a tenfold decrease in the cost per m/bit used to deliver services to the region. The advent of new bandwidth management technologies has provided higher throughput per bit, thereby producing further bandwidth savings. In addition, increased competition between telecommunications providers continues to drive the prices further down. Consequently, we have observed demand for higher access rates as most of the Pacific countries now have 256kbps and moving towards higher ADSL2-level connection speeds.
Bandwidth management and enhanced on-the ground satellite technology
Satellite transponder capacity is a scarce resource, and often, service providers charge a bandwidth premium, passed on to them by the satellite operators. The latest bandwidth management tools such as WAN Acceleration, Caching and QoS offer a smarter approach to reducing allocated WAN bandwidth usage; accelerating user experience and increasing throughput. Some of the WAN Optimsation vendors promise an unprecedented 40% in total bandwidth savings on a typical link to an Enterprise customer’s office. We have seen an average bandwidth savings of 20% across our customer networks with some frequently cached content preserving up to 95% in bandwidth usage. Some specific techniques like TCP Acceleration will also help offset the effects of the inherent latency of satellite networks.
The latest traffic shaping technology provides unprecedented levels of control, letting Pacific telecoms and enterprises prioritize how and when users, applications and web sites consume bandwidth on their network, allowing them to control bandwidth by user, group, time and location.
In addition, we have seen greater efficiencies on the satellite transponder side due to improved efficiency in coding and modulation. According to Newtec, one of the leaders in satellite modem technology, the latest enhancements to the DVB-S2 technology led to staggering efficiency gains of up to 64% for professional satellite applications and up to 20% for DTH networks.2 (http://www.newtec.eu/technology/s2-extensions)
Recently, we have observed paramount throughput enhancements for a satellite backhaul link in Kiribati for the local government-owned telecom, TSKL. During the major infrastructure overhaul of TSKL’s network, an enhanced high-speed modem technology was deployed, and with combination of network optimization practices, significant efficiency gains were achieved, improving the network performance and mitigating their network bottleneck. The results are improved Internet access, decreased download times and more efficient satellite trunking – all leading to faster and more reliable communications for the islanders.
As the Pacific’s mobile networks continue to upgrade to 3G and 4G, the spread of the mobile Internet has enabled the region to leapfrog traditional computer-based Internet connections. In some of the islands, desktop Internet is still expensive and is not widely accessible, making it not as convenient as mobile connections.
Web-enabled mobile phones are now sold in most Pacific Island markets. These range from the more expensive Blackberry, iPhones and high-end Nokia smartphone varieties down to the more affordable handsets made by the Chinese telecommunications firm Huawei and Digicel’s ‘Facebook phone’1. (source http://www.lowyinstitute.org/publications/digital-islands-how-pacifics-ict-revolution-transforming-region)
In our modern world, whether we are at the airport, coffee shop or shopping mall – wherever we spend most of our waking hours – we expect to have access to Wi-Fi. The Wi-Fi trend didn’t bypass the Pacific region – in addition to local telecoms on most Islands, including Norfolk, Niue (the first official Wi-Fi nation) and Kiribati, local private companies are emerging, offering multiple Wi-Fi hotspots throughout the islands and atolls.
One of the regional operators, Palau Wi-Fi, set up a number of Internet Access Points/stations across the islands of Palau, providing high-speed Internet to local population and tourists on the territory.
As anticipated, Palau Wi-Fi’s operations expanded very rapidly, and demand for satellite capacity doubled during the first six months. Their bandwidth was upgraded accordingly and they are currently looking at deploying a bandwidth management solution on the satellite link, to effectively manage the increasing demand.
As demand grows for greater bandwidth, 3G services and superfast broadband, the Pacific Island market is increasingly moving towards submarine fibre connectivity.
Started in 2002 with the SCCN cable from Australia to Hawaii, the Pacific fiber rollout is continuing in the region with over ten major cables laid in the past decade.
Next on the radar screen are the Solomon Islands, which are set to develop a fibre optic communication cable system after securing a grant and a loan from the Asian Development Bank. This new project will enhance the state of existing communications and is expected to reduce access costs, and in turn, create savings and enhance opportunities for the Solomon Islands population and international business.
Following Fiji, Tonga and New Caledonia, Vanuatu became one of the latest adopters of a fibre network rollout in the territory by acquiring IP capacity on the new ICL-1 submarine cable, which will enable local service providers to supply high-speed connectivity across the island. As a result, Vanuatu is now 49 milliseconds away from the major Internet peering points and is truly a model case for bridging the digital divide in the Pacific as the proliferation of new and more widely-affordable communication tools begin to reach the territory.
According to ITU3 (Source: http://www.itu.int/net/pressoffice/press_releases/2014/23.aspx#.VGYI1vmsUjo), by the end of 2014, fixed-broadband penetration will have reached almost 10% globally – 44% of all fixed-broadband subscriptions are in Asia and the Pacific. One-third of the population in Asia and the Pacific will be online by end 2014 and around 45% of the world’s Internet users will be from the Asia-Pacific region.
Today we see some valiant efforts being made to address the digital divide from local government and global institutions, aimed at securing affordable and robust connectivity for the islands, which include the Asia-Pacific Information Superhighway (AP-IS) initiative, The Pacific Plan Review 2013, and “Connect the Blue Continent” campaign.
Consequently over the next five years, we expect to see a new wave of satellites covering the region and providing more options for broadband access, greater efficiencies and generating further cost savings. At the same time, Google’s Project Loon is investigating balloon-powered Internet, after launching a pilot program in New Zealand in June 2013.
Fibre prices will continue to decrease due to technology advancements allowing for more bits to traverse the single piece of glass and increasing competition will lower international IP transit prices. As continuation of the fiber rollout will bring on higher speeds and Islands become an integral part of the global economy, we should see the Pacific network become one of resilience, performance, value for money and extensive coverage.
At SpeedCast, as an early adopter of change in this digital age, we welcome these changes, and look forward to helping to bring the Pacific Islands closer to each other and to the global economy.