Are satellites the future of affordable internet in Papua New Guinea?


Kacific Broadband Satellites has the potential to transform Papua New Guinea by delivering reliable internet connectivity to people in remote and rural areas. Here’s how.

Kacific1’s area coverage in Papua New Guinea. Credit: Kacific

On December 16, 2019, Elon Musk’s SpaceX launched the Kacific1 satellite from the Space Launch Complex at Cape Canaveral in Florida. The successful launch saw the vision of satellite expert Christian Patouraux, CEO and Founder of Kacific Broadband Satellites Group, come to fruition.

Patouraux tells Business Advantage PNG that in 2004, in the aftermath of the tsunami that hit Thailand, he witnessed first hand how a lack of connectivity affects the livelihoods of people in remote areas.

‘I was in Thailand doing volunteer work. A lot of people in remote areas of the country didn’t have access to the internet and there was a deep need for connectivity – but there was no technology available,’ says Patouraux.

He founded Kacific Broadband Satellites Group in 2013 to help to provide high-quality, low-cost satellite broadband to remote and rural areas in the Asia-Pacific region.

Today, Kacific1’s broadband covers 25 nations across the Pacific and South East Asia including: Fiji, the Solomon Islands, Philippines, Vanuatu, Tuvalu and Papua New Guinea.

Connecting PNG

Kacific's CEO and founder

Kacific’s Christian Patouraux. Credit: Kacific

The Coral Sea Cable and Kumul Submarine Cable have helped to increase internet access and connectivity in Papua New Guinea. However, as Patouraux explains, ‘it is very hard to connect a country like PNG’.

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With rural and remote areas spread across several islands and mountainous regions, it becomes expensive to distribute bandwidth 50 to 100 kilometres beyond the landing point of the cable, he notes. ‘What the satellite [Kacific1] does is provide an equitable service for people living in rural areas.’

‘We have a tremendous amount of bandwidth for PNG; about 10 per cent of our total bandwidth is allocated for the country,’ he says. ‘We have a number of customers interested and we are rolling out services as we speak.’

Kacific is selling its services wholesale to licensed telecommunication providers and ISPs that in turn sell to end-users. Sites previously covered by older satellites are also being converted to Kacific1.

‘We have a business plan geared towards doing good in remote areas. The level of access will benefit hospitals, schools, safety, and help achieve gender equality,’ he says.

In 2019, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) supported the operation, signing a US$50 million (K170 million) agreement with Kacific.

‘Every school, every hospital will have the chance of being connected with Kacific at a very moderate cost, with easy access. We operate within an agreed framework, but the ADB are not directly involved in the day-to-day operations and executional work in connecting these areas; that is left to Kacific to deploy.’

That ‘moderate cost’, he explains, is about US$1000 (K3412) per village of 200 people, which works out to be a few dollars per connected user per month.

Kacific1 can also offer redundancy; if the local submarine or fibre cable breaks, the satellite can provide connectivity while the cable is being fixed.

Helping achieve targets

Kacific1 satellite (JCSAT-18:Kacific1) at Boeing facilities, preparing for shipment. Credit: Kacific

Kacific1 broadband services should help the PNG Government with its plans for an eGovernment platform. But, as Patouraux says, the government needs to reach the rural areas first.

‘A satellite evens out the digital gap between rural and urban areas. It allows the government to capitalise on e-platforms on which the citizens can participate,’ he explains.

The Solomon Islands already has more than 100 terminals connected to Kacific1 and in Vanuatu schools and clinics are benefiting from increased bandwidth.

‘We are a volume player. We believe the market is elastic and we believe it will decrease prices. The equilibrium is advantageous … at US$1 (K3.4)or US$2 (K6.8) for a gigabyte, the population can participate,’ explains Patouraux.

Kacific’s calculations suggest that the retail price could translate to US$2 (K6.8) or US$4 (K13.6) per gigabyte, but the company is not a retailer and has no say in setting final prices. The company’s model aims to deliver 100 megabytes per second per village, a bandwidth comparable to that of a city district.

When will Kacific1’s broadband be available for everyone?

‘There’s a big push and effort. The terrain is difficult, but [we hope] that at the end of this year we will have several thousand sites connected. It’s a reasonable target for us.’

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