Connecting Western Province to the world


An ambitious and transformative project has commenced to bring 21st century communications to the rural areas of Western Province for the first time.

Western Province is remote, even for Papua New Guinea, and its sparsely distributed population and business community has, until recently, faced particular challenges in communicating not only across province but with other parts of the country and the world. If you lived or worked outside the Province’s major population centres, satellite phones were the only option and the internet was something only for the largest enterprises.

The Western Province Communications Project is already changing that situation.

A network of towers

The ambitious US$26 million project commenced in 2011 with the aim of bringing 95% of the Province’s population within reach of a mobile phone network, the internet, and radio and television broadcasts from a new network of communications towers.

Once complete in 2012, the project will have built 58 strategically located towers across the Province. The towers will be able to host a range of communications services. Already Digicel PNG, which won the tender to install the towers, has used them to expand its existing national mobile network. To encourage competition, the towers will also be open to other service providers.

Logistical challenge

With so few roads in the Province, the installation of the towers has represented a major logistical challenge. Equipment has been brought from the capital Port Moresby by barge to Daru or further up the Fly River, and then has been flown into position by helicopter. Rural communities have already felt a positive impact from the rollout, with landowners able to charge rent for the sites, and local businesses being invited to bid for security and maintenance contracts.

‘Once complete in 2012, the project will have built 58 strategically located towers across the Province.’

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Immediate benefits

Other investments are already reaping social dividends. School students are connecting to the internet for the first time with laptops supplied to them under a ‘One laptop per child’ pilot scheme (pictured), rural businesses are able to communicate with distant customers and suppliers quickly and effectively, and there will be positive repercussions too for information and data-hungry sectors such as mining/gas, health and tourism.

‘This is a large impact project for communication which will reduce the isolation of the Western people and open economic market opportunities,’ said PNGSDP’s Chief Executive Officer David Sode in July 2011.

Sharing in the growth

Papua New Guineans have shown themselves to be enthusiastic adopters of mobile technology, with some suggesting the introduction of competition in the mobile phone sector in 2007 contributed directly to a 0.7% rise in the country’s GDP. It will be fascinating to watch the impact of its widespread introduction into Western Province.

With more and more services, from banking to insurance to power bill payments, being delivered via mobile phones in PNG, this important enabling infrastructure will ensure that the Western Province’s population—and the businesses based there—are able to more fully participate in PNG’s rapid economic growth.

This article first published in PNG’s Western Province 2012