Five things we learned from our Papua New Guinea Telecommunications Update


Last Thursday, Business Advantage PNG hosted a special Papua New Guinea Telecommunications Update with the CEO of PNG DataCo Ltd, Paul Komboi, and telecommunications expert, Dr Amanda Watson. Here are five take-homes from the event.

1. The Kumul Submarine Cable is almost complete.

The Kumul Submarine Cable Network (KSCN), the undersea fibreoptic cable system that links around PNG’s coastline, is complete except for the link to Jayapura in neighbouring Indonesia, delayed due to COVID-19, which will be completed in the fourth quarter of this year.

Komboi says the link between Madang and Lae, which was damaged in multiple places by earthquakes in May 2019, is expected to be fixed in 2022. In the meantime, Lae is being serviced by a mixture of fibre topic cable, microwave and satellite.

The next step for the KSCN is the commissioning of its Data Centre in Port Moresby, expected next month. Komboi says this will enable PNG-based companies to host their data in PNG without needing to run their own IT departments, and also access cloud services more efficiently. The opening of the data centre has been delayed while PNG DataCo ensures that security and operational benchmarks could be met. DataCo is already pre-selling capacity at the centre.

2. The National Transmission Network continues to expand.

All but two of PNG’s provinces – Hela and Oro (specifically, Popondetta) – are now connected to PNG’s telecommunications backbone, the National Transmission Network (NTN). The NTN now features 7500 km of fibreoptic cable.

The MD of PNG DataCo says future rollout of cable will be where economic activity is strongest and where there is a specific need: for example, where there is a mine.

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The NTN is part of the Connect PNG infrastructure project, which involves co-location of the NTN with roads and power transmission. Future optical fibre connections being looked at include between Kavieng and Namatanai in New Ireland Province, between Kimbe and Kokopo on the island of New Britain, and between Wewak and Maprik in East Sepik Province.

Alongside fibreoptic cable, PNG DataCo is also putting in place satellite connections for redundancy and reliability purposes. Recent connections include Daru.

PNG’s National Transmission Network

3. The NTN is clearly meeting a need.

In 2018, the PPC-1 international cable which connects Madang to Guam and Sydney, Australia, was consuming 3.5 gigabytes of data per second. Now, it is at its full capacity of 10GB/s. The Coral Sea Cable connection into Port Moresby is also at 10GB/s, ten times the capacity of the APNG-1 cable it replaced.

Komboi is reporting annual increase in capacity in the NTN of between 30 and 40 per cent.

4. The wholesale price of data has come down.

He suggests that the price of wholesale data has come down by 80 per cent already and there is scope for lower prices still.

One of PNG DataCo’s constraints is the debt burden it carries due to the money borrowed to build its network. A significant portion of this was borrowed at commercial rates. Komboi says he is working to have that debt restructured, which will not only reduce costs but also allow DataCo to fund future network expansion.

5. In spite of the improved infrastructure, most PNG consumers haven’t seen the cost of mobile phone data fall.

Dr Amanda Watson from the Department of Pacific Affairs at the Australian National University, runs a weekly price survey with colleagues from the University of PNG and Divine Word University. The survey suggests the cost of phone data in PNG has not come down since the Coral Sea Cable was commissioned at the end of 2019.

Watson says the only way most consumers can pay less for their phone data is by buying their phone data in larger bundles, rather than topping up with small amounts regularly.

Watson is hoping the advent of competition from a new mobile phone company owned by Fiji’s Amalgamated Telecomms Holdings will help to drive more price competition later this year.

To view the complete PNG Telecommunications Update, click here.

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