Connecting the Pacific Nations: Well Done – But It Doesn’t Stop There!

As published in the July Issue of SubTel Forum Magazine

John Hibbard and Paul McCann discuss cable systems that have been implemented in the Pacific to various island nations in the region.By John Hibbard & Paul McCann
July 21, 2022

Major construction and installation activities over the past decade have seen almost all the Pacific Island Nations connected to the global internet by fibre optic submarine cable, the most recent of which are Tokelau and Kiribati – both of which are now both connected into the global network via SX NEXT cable system. As we have recorded over the course of the last few years – of the 22 Pacific Island Nations it is amazing to realise that only Nauru and Tuvalu remain to be “cabled”!

As for Nauru – it is important to hear that following significant delay, the East Micronesia Cable (EMC) connection into Nauru is again moving forward with a planned in-service date of 2025. The EMC system will also bring low latency and abundant capacity also into neighbouring Kiribati (Tarawa) and to Kosrae (FSM). As for the nation of Tuvalu, well that connection remains in planning with a solid hope that a suitable solution will emerge in the not-too-distant future!

So – well done to all of us who have worked hard to improve the international connectivity for the people of the Pacific Region – this has been much needed, yet it is now time to realise that in the same process, this same solution has intensified the requirement for improved domestic connections that could enable the population to access the low latency, high quality service they afford. As such, one of the key challenges for smaller nations such as in the Pacific is to exploit this glut of international capacity. This is best done through a combination of higher capacity connections from the cable landing point via the telecom operator to the customer and via the introduction of new applications made possible by the high capacity.

For many Pacific islands, the most common way for consumers to connect to the internet is through their mobile phone. However, many mobile phone networks were designed assuming the use of higher cost satellite connections and as such operators seek to squeeze as much traffic as possible on the narrow pipes which has an adverse effect on quality and makes response times slow. It is therefore imperative that the domestic access networks, whether mobile or wired, are upgraded to accommodate the surge in demand. Across the Pacific, when cables have been landed, we have seen demand increase between 2 and 6 times within just 3 months, with consequent reduction in costs to users.

Another significant opportunity to exploit the increased cable capacity is with new applications. For example, the provision of e-health services can improve the quality of life. With the extra capacity, for instance x-rays and MRIs can be done locally and if the interpretation skills are not available at the clinic, the results can be sent to say New Zealand, Australia or Hawaii for evaluation potentially avoiding the need for expensive patient travel overseas. Other applications include opportunities such as teleworking – for example where lawyers and accountants can operate in their own countries rather than needing to locate at their head office in another country. There are many more examples that can be provided – but the key message here is that – the solution doesn’t stop with the provision of the submarine cable – we all have more work to do!

One of the real success stories in the Pacific has been Palau where in just 4 years, the traffic demand has risen more than 20-fold and quality has gone from a slow, intermittent service to a fast continuous service thanks to the combination of a submarine cable and an upgraded local connectivity network. This has enabled a transition to a digital economy which has served them well (particularly during the COVID period). In fact, they have become so dependent on the economic benefits that they are now well advanced on a second cable to provide back-up for their current umbilical cord. We have of course seen and heard of the consequences in Tonga when their sole international submarine cable broke following the volcanic eruption.

Submarine cables provide abundant high quality lower cost connections for countries enabling the economic development of industries as well as providing populations to have access to the same services available in larger countries. However, garnering these benefits depends on cooperation between the telecom carriers and the government service organisations to provide the network infrastructure and applications to exploit the capabilities of the cables.

For us all involved in this wonderful ICT industry, it remains gratifying to see that through the installation of an international submarine cable this opens a gateway to many other benefits for a small island nation – and whilst this has been much needed – our work is not done yet!

About the Authors

John Hibbard is CEO of Hibbard Consulting Pty Ltd. John has worked in the telecommunications industry for over 40 years, and for more than 30 has been associated with submarine cables. An Engineer by qualification, John worked for much of his career at Telstra finishing as Managing Director of Global Wholesale. John was the inaugural Chairman of Australia Japan Cable which he guided to a successful implementation.

Since 2001, John has been an independent consultant in his own company, Hibbard Consulting, involved in strategic and commercial aspects associated with the development and/or implementation of many international submarine cable projects across the Pacific including French Polynesia, Samoa, American Samoa, Tonga, Vanuatu, Solomons, PNG, Palau, FSM, and CNMI.

He was President of PTC from 2009 to 2012.


Paul McCann is Managing Director of McCann Consulting International Pty Ltd. Paul has over 40 years network planning & development experience in telecommunications both in international and domestic arenas. Prior to returning to consulting in 2012, Paul spent over 8 years with Verizon in Asia Pacific, driving growth of Verizon’s network across Asia by developing & implementing plans delivering major operational cost reductions and improved service performance. Paul is now managing his own consulting business, specializing in development in the Pacific Region, where the core business focus is on “connectivity” with expertise spanning all aspects of planning and development for Satellite, Submarine cable and Domestic access technologies and business.

Paul is well known for his personable nature, his rapport with customers and his ability to deliver on time.

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