Analysis: is phone data getting cheaper in Papua New Guinea?


There has been much enthusiasm about new undersea internet cables in Papua New Guinea and predicted cheaper internet, but have prices fallen yet? Amanda H A Watson, Picky Airi and Moses Sakai analyse internet pricing for the first half of the year.

Dvine Word University students using their mobile phones. Credit: Mathew Kau

The Coral Sea Cable links PNG to Sydney and was completed in December last year. It is now available for use, but there seems to have been limited take-up. The Kumul Submarine Cable is a domestic cable throughout PNG and is currently undergoing testing. There are predictions that the two cables are set to make the country’s internet faster and cheaper. A NICTA public consultation process is underway regarding pricing at present.

This article reports on data collected systematically using Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) menus in mobile telephones. Customers use these menus by selecting, for instance, ‘1’ to ‘Buy a plan’ then ‘1’ for ‘Data plan’ in the next list of options received and so on. The advantage of using USSD menus to collect data is that this method provides accurate, up-to-date information and can capture temporary promotions. By contrast, collecting newspaper advertisements or pricing information from company websites or other sources may not be as reliable.

‘Digicel has 92 per cent of the mobile telecommunication market in PNG.’

This research does not capture the pricing structures of all internet service providers operating in PNG, such as those offering services to businesses, households, universities and so on; it captures the pricing structures relevant to a substantial portion of the country’s internet users when they access the internet through mobile telephones.

Over three quarters of mobile telephone connections in PNG are prepaid. This research has found that there has been no change in mobile internet pricing for prepaid customers in the first half of 2020.


Digicel dishes in PNG. Credit: BAI

Digicel has 92 per cent of the mobile telecommunication market in PNG. Since 6 January 2020, data has been collected every Monday using the Digicel USSD menu accessed with the code ‘*675#’.

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Data plans were captured under the ‘day’ category (1-day, 3-day, 7-day and 30-day) over a period of six months every Monday. Among the four categories of day plans, the most accessible (the option that enables a user to access the internet for the least amount of money), the middle, and the high-end data plan option were recorded. Users who can afford to outlay a larger amount of money upfront receive a better rate per megabyte.

There were no changes. The Digicel rates were consistent throughout the period of data collection.

‘Despite the repeated promises and predictions of reductions in internet prices in PNG, there have been no changes.’

Some Digicel plans offered bonus data for use of social media platforms while others did not. For instance, the 1-day plan did not include any extras. The 7-day plan has social plans for the most accessible and the middle categories – both include 2 Gigabytes of data to use on Facebook, with the middle category providing an additional 1 Gigabyte for YouTube. Again, the social plans and pricing structures did not change during the six-month-long data collection period.

bmobile and Telikom

Prices for bmobile and Telikom were brought into alignment in 2019 due to a merger. Since 6 January 2020, data has been collected every Monday using a USSD menu accessed with the code ‘*777#’ on a bmobile device and also using the same code on a Telikom device. The same prices are being offered through both devices.

Data was collected for the 1-day, 3-day, 7-day and 30-day options. bmobile and Telikom have been offering the same mobile data plans over the period of research, which do not have social bundles included. The cost of data remained the same over the half-year period.

Comparison of data rates (toea per megabyte, January to June 2020)

  1-day plan 3-day plan 7-day plan 30-day plan
Service provider Most accessible Middle High-end Most accessible Middle High-end Most accessible Middle High-end Most accessible Middle High-end
bmobile / Telikom 0.60 0.60 0.60 0.55 0.55 0.50
Digicel 7.50 1.75 0.80 3.33* 2.13 1.30 3.33* 3.00* 1.00 1.25 1.00

* These Digicel plans offered bonus social plans. The ‘most accessible’ option for the 3-day plan and the 7-day plan included Facebook (700MB FB and 2000MB FB, respectively), while the 7-day plan middle option also included YouTube (2000MB FB plus 1000MB YT).

Coverage and use

Bmobile airport

Detail of Bmobile’s ad at Jacksons International Airport. Credit: BAI

While the Digicel pricing varies, it is much more expensive than the pricing offered by bmobile/Telikom: more than ten times as expensive for the most accessible 1-day plan.

That being the case, why doesn’t everyone use bmobile/Telikom?

We believe that the main reason is that the geographical coverage of the Digicel mobile network is much wider than the coverage of its competitor. Many people in rural areas rely on Digicel as the only available option for their communication needs. Indeed, many of these people make and receive telephone calls but do not use mobile internet regularly or at all. Meanwhile, those residing in urban areas need to use Digicel to stay in contact with their relatives in the village.

Despite the repeated promises and predictions of reductions in internet prices in PNG, there have been no changes in the prices offered in the first half of this year at the retail level.

It may be that, as predicted, the new undersea cables will lead to reductions in prices for consumers. Several other factors will influence the possibility of this outcome, including the need to recover costs from the new domestic cable, market competition, full operation of the PNG Internet Exchange Point, and existing supplier contracts.

This article by Amanda H A Watson, Picky Airi and Moses Sakai appeared first on Devpolicy Blog (, from the Development Policy Centre at The Australian National University. Republished with permission.


  1. Ebu Gomana says

    A good study which the regulator and Policy makers need to note. It should be noted that the study was undertaken when the CS2 was completed while the KSCN was still under construction.

    This is critical as the impact of CS2 is mainly in Port Moresby as the redistribution by the Mobile operator across the cou try will depend on Microwave or Satellite (no change from last time). Further, Digicel has advocated that cost of international connectivity IP transit only accounts for 5% to 10% of their total cost of delivery. One of the conclusions of the study is “including the need to recover costs from the new domestic cable”. One would ask how much does the price of wholesale Internet needs to drop by before we can see real drops in the retail Internet prices.

    Such a study needs to be redone after the KSCN is completed and in operation as it does meet some of the high domestic transmission costs in the market today.

    Having said that, the cables I believe will have a direct impact on the Wholesale segment of the market with more reliable and reduced prices, however, the issues around high retail Internet prices is is a retail competition issue. The study has highlighted an important fact that Digicel controls about 92% of the retail mobile market.

    Issues, around retail competition need to be addressed like, planning and allocation of mobile spectrum, Mobile number Portability and Co-Location and infrastructure sharing and maybe domestic roaming.

    Having said that, the new cables under the National Transmission Network (which includes the CS2, KSCN, etc..) under DataCo if DataCo is able to continue its single wholesale Internet pricing across the country irrespective of the province of location, WILL BRING NEW POSSIBILITIES AND OPPORTUNITIES FOR NEW REGIONAL ISPs that can provide the competition to the Big 3 operators.

    Adresding retail competition is keen to see reduction in retail Internet prices.


    • Hello Ebu. Thank you for your thoughtful comment. I will alert my co-authors to it.

      You will be pleased to know that we are continuing the research. Our aim is to publish an update every six months.

      Thanks again Ebu.


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