Mobile internet prices falling in Papua New Guinea [analysis]

Welcome,

After years of high prices for mobile data in Papua New Guinea, consumers are now able to access lower prices that represent better value. Amanda H A Watson and Moses Sakai present their latest analysis of data prices.

Has competition helped to drive down mobile data prices in PNG? The authors suggest it has.

We have been monitoring mobile internet prices in PNG since the start of 2020. This post reports on research findings since the last update in April 2022.

From the beginning of May 2022, we have added an additional mobile network operator to our monitoring program: Vodafone PNG. It launched in late April 2022 under the Vodafone branding and is run by Amalgamated Telecom Holdings, which is listed on Fiji’s South Pacific Stock Exchange. Its entry into the PNG market was assisted by funding from the Asian Development Bank. We are now recording the prices offered by Telikom PNG, Digicel and Vodafone.

“Overall, our research has shown that all three mobile network operators have decreased their prices”

How do the offerings of the three mobile network operators compare?

Table 1 below shows the mobile data rates offered by the three companies in January 2024. Telikom’s rates are similar to those of new entrant Vodafone in terms of value, or toea per megabyte. Digicel offers more choice and Digicel users typically need to select a high-end option to access a rate comparable to those offered by Telikom and Vodafone.

The rates shown in Table 1 are substantially better in terms of toea per megabyte than the rates we presented in a similar table in July 2020. At that time, Telikom’s data cost 0.60 toea per megabyte for 1-, 3- and 7-day plans and their best-value offering was 0.50 toea per megabyte for a high-end 30-day data bundle. Digicel’s data rates at that time ranged from 7.50 toea per megabyte to 0.80 toea per megabyte. Therefore, it is clear to see that mobile internet rates have improved in PNG since 2020.

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However, unlike Telikom’s and Vodafone’s offerings, Digicel’s mobile data plans now come with strings attached. Between 73 and 80 per cent of the data purchased for each of the plans (1-, 3-, 7- and 30-day) is only valid to be used from 6:00 AM to 6:00 PM, with the balance able to be used at any time of the day. Although Digicel’s data prices have dropped, we feel that these time-of-day restrictions place their customers at a disadvantage. They create an additional mental load for users and require them to monitor their own behaviour, thus continuing what anthropologist Robert J. Foster has referred to as Digicel’s tendency “to encourage personal responsibility for monitoring data usage”.

As can be seen in Table 1, users who can spend more up front are able to purchase data at better value than users with less money at the time of purchase. We feel that such pricing structures, which have been adopted by all three telecommunication companies, place low-income users at a disadvantage.

“The entry of a new company into PNG’s mobile market in 2022 appears to have had a demonstrable impact on the mobile internet rates offered by the two existing mobile network operators.”

The rates shown in Table 1 are those offered to prepaid users. We monitor prepaid services because the majority of mobile telephone connections in PNG are prepaid. Since April 2021, Digicel has offered a subscription service to prepaid users through its ‘REDclub’. Under REDclub, data rates are similar to the ones provided by Telikom and Vodafone under their normal plans.

However, in order to access plans under REDclub, Digicel users are required to subscribe for a week for 10 kina or a month for 20 kina. REDclub data plans do not have time-of-day conditions attached. Telikom and Vodafone do not offer subscription services.

Overall, our research has shown that all three mobile network operators have decreased their prices. This is welcome news for mobile phone users in PNG. Nonetheless, it is worth acknowledging that some offerings remain unattainable for certain citizens. For example, people who live a subsistence lifestyle, operate in the informal economy or sustain themselves through insecure employment may not be able to afford REDclub subscription fees. Similarly, families in urban areas with high housing costs and other expenses may not be able to buy the data plans that represent the best value.

Factors driving pricing

The Coral Sea Cable System (CS2), launched in December 2019, and the Kumul domestic internet cable completed early in 2020 were expected to improve access to the internet and reduce internet pricing in PNG. In their first few years of operation, the cables appeared to have had no positive impact on mobile internet prices, as was shown by our earlier updates.

The entry of a new company into PNG’s mobile market in 2022 appears to have had a demonstrable impact on the mobile internet rates offered by the two existing mobile network operators. It is unclear whether the purchase of Digicel’s Pacific operations by Australian company Telstra had any bearing on Digicel PNG’s pricing structures.

While there are multiple factors at play, such as regulation of wholesale prices, it seems that the introduction of additional competition may have done more for the budgets of consumers than the earlier introduction of cable systems. However, we acknowledge that the price decreases could have been caused by something else, or a combination of factors, and we cannot be sure of the cause.

Detailed analysis and graphs showing the prices offered by the three mobile service providers over time can be found here.

Amanda H A Watson is a researcher with the Department of Pacific Affairs, Australian National University. Moses Sakai is a Research Fellow at the Papua New Guinea National Research Institute. This article was first published on the Devpolicy blog. This research was supported by the Pacific Research Program, with funding from Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. The views represent those of the authors only.

Comments

  1. Dear Amanda and Moses,
    Thank you for the interesting findings that internet prices per megabyte decreased since 2020. However, no where in this article or the detail analysis you guys did provided information on the sampling size? I personally find it difficult to understand the figures 1-4. For instance, why the duration varies from 21 days to 27 days and the causes of big gaps from 5/12/2022 to 20/03/2023? This needs to be clearly stated in your detail analysis. it would be good to see demographic distribution of the internet users across the country. Was the samples collected only in Port Moresby or other centers too?
    Is it a personal responsibility to monitor data usage or Digicel method of luring its costumers to spend more it could be two thing? Otherwise, thank you for this study

  2. Omang Faik says

    I was and is a digicel mobile network user, for convenience matter I thank other two companies operating in the country. How ever they are providing I make good use of the service.

  3. John mc says

    Take the Coral Sea cable access off Data Co and let Telstra manage it. We are paying for a gravy train. Data Co borrowings to be paid off so their managers live the high life.

  4. John mc says

    Data Co are the problem. Huge bandwidth rates so their management live the highlife. Take the undersea cable access and give it to Telstra

  5. The research findings here has some merits but not entirely.
    It attempts to paint a lopsided picture that, the Coral Sea cable 2 was the sole catalyst for this downward trend in mobile and standard internet prices in Papua New Guinea.
    It deliberately ignores the 04th July 2019 massive 80% internet service rate reduction carried out by Telikom PNG. Here is a quick rain check.
    https://www.thenational.com.pg/bsp-sees-opportunity-in-reduced-internet-rates/

    • John mc says

      80% reduction. Think we all missed it. Was overcharged since day one. Proves it.

    • Amanda and Moses says

      Dear Corney,

      Thank you for your interest in this research. As is explained in this brief article, this weekly monitoring project began in the first week of 2020. While the impetus for commencing the research was the launch of the Coral Sea Cable System, we do not suggest in this article that it is the sole reason for a downward trend in mobile internet prices. Indeed, we suggest that other factors, and in particular one other factor, may have led to the changes we are seeing of late.

      Regarding the decrease in Telikom PNG prices in 2019, this was captured in an earlier blog post, which is available at the following link: https://devpolicy.org/internet-prices-in-papua-new-guinea-20200130/

      Thanks again and we look forward to continuing the conversation with you.

      Amanda and Moses

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