What the Coral Sea Cable will really mean for Papua New Guinea


The Coral Sea Cable from Sydney to Port Moresby, set to greatly increase internet speeds in Papua New Guinea, will be ready for commercial use in 2020. But according to a panel at last week’s Innovation PNG 2019 conference, it will raise as many questions as answers.

From left: Sundar Ramamurthy, Khafra Kambon, Une O’Ome, Charles Punaha and Andrew Wilkins at the Innovation PNG 2019 conference. Credit: BAI/Rocky Roe

Une O’Ome, Commercial Director of the state-owned wholesaler PNG DataCo, said the Coral Sea Cable System is connected and currently being tested. ‘The main project that we have run at a high level is called the National Transmission Network (NTM). The objective of the NTM is to have connectivity all around the country – have at least a point of presence in all the provincial capitals and then have connectivity going outside of the country.’

‘By mid-2020, Kokopo will have 100 gigabytes a second.’

O’Ome said the Kumul Submarine Domestic Network will be fully operational in 2020. ‘We’ve already got all of the inland provinces connected by fibre,’ he explained. O’Ome said System 1, which connects Jayapura to Arawa with seven branching units connecting to Vanimo, Wewak, Lorengau, Madang, Kimbe, Kavieng and Kokopo, will be running by mid-2020. System 2, which connects Madang to Port Moresby, with three branching units to Lae, Popondetta and Alotau, was connected in March 2019.

‘The islands should be done by mid-2020,’ said O’Ome. ‘Coastal and island locations should be connected to broadband internet, and it should be 100 gig a second.’

To illustrate the impact, O’Ome said Kokopo currently has speeds of 0.09 gigabytes a second. ‘By mid-2020, Kokopo will have 100 gigabytes a second.’

Price reductions and competition

Invoc’s Sundar Ramamurthy during the Innovation PNG 2019 conference. Credit: BAI

One issue that will be brought to the fore by the new cables is the nature of telecommunications competition in PNG.

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Charles Punaha, Chief Executive of the National Information and Communications Technology Authority (NICTA), said one challenge for the regulator is to ensure equal access to internet. ‘The pricing of this service must be at cost. [And] it must be non-discriminatory; it must be open.’

He added that there has been a public discussion paper about pricing, the final report of which will be released in November. ‘All I can say is that there will be substantial reduction in the price from what is being offered at the moment.’

‘If we want to realise the true potential in this country, you have to look not in Port Moresby, not in the cities where fibre is going to be, you actually have to look out in the Highlands’

Pumaha said the pricing regime will take into account the fact that 80 per cent of the Coral Sea Cable cost was paid by Australia, making the return on investment requirements lower. But there would be some variability. ‘We expect there will be some range of price differentials based on the wholesale price provided by Dataco.’

Sundar Ramamurthy, Managing Director of Invoc and a former CEO of Bemobile, said that although the regulator can set a price, when it comes to competition in telecommunications the PNG market ‘is a bit skewed’. He said retail competition is the only way to get substantially lower prices, but doubts the necessary incentives are in place.

‘The first thing we need to do is have pricing transparency and DataCo should have on their website what price they are going to offer an Internet Service Providers (ISP) or a retail service provider, so there is no back room deal being done.

‘You have an operator [in Digicel] that is pretty much a single operator and there is no commercial incentive [to lower prices]. They don’t need to use the cable, they have their own access points out of the country.’

Punaha agreed the competitive structure of the PNG market is an issue. ‘We have competition; there are plenty of ISPs. But the market structure in PNG has progressed from a state monopoly to a private monopoly. That has been the challenge for us as the regulator.’

Cost of doing business

Digicel’s Khafra Kambon.

Khafra Kambon, Commercial Director for Digicel Pacific, said fibre capacity and bandwidth represents less than five per cent of the company’s operating cost.

‘When you talk about the cost of internet in PNG, you are not talking [just] about international band width. You are talking about the cost of doing business here: you are talking about security, the cost of diesel, the cost of choppers. We fly choppers twice a week to 200 sites. This won’t change when we land fibre on the beach.’

Kambon called for a national debate about how to develop telecommunications infrastructure for the whole country. ‘If we want to realise the true potential in this country, you have to look not in Port Moresby, not in the cities where fibre is going to be, you actually have to look out in the Highlands.’

O’Ome said that because the Coral Sea Cable has been funded by the Australian government it will be priced ‘very low’ in Port Moresby. ‘That is fine, but everybody else is going to see very different imposts. We are trying to ensure that there is the same price in Wewak, or Vanimo.’


  1. As an avid internet user, all i want out of these is the internet speed at a reasonable cost. There is a whole lot of opportunity that we know of waiting to be explored. Give us the service and eventually competition will grow out of this.

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