New players in Papua New Guinea’s telco sector drive expansion & competition


The recent arrival of two major international players into Papua New Guinea’s telecommunications sector has provided it with a timely boost – and a platform for much-needed growth.

Vodafone launched in PNG in April 2022. Credit: Vodafone

Papua New Guinea appears finally on the cusp of its long anticipated digital revolution, with new telecommunications companies – Australia’s Telstra and Fiji-owned Vodafone – entering the market to bring better coverage and services to more of the country’s population.

Vodafone launches

After some COVID-enforced delays, Vodafone PNG, owned by Fiji’s Amalgamated Telecom Holdings, finally launched as a full-service telco in PNG in April 2022. The K3 billion investment in its PNG network is assisted by a US$25 million equity investment from the Asian Development Bank, which also provided technical assistance.

Nirmal Singh, who left Vodafone in March 2023, led the rollout in PNG as the new company’s first CEO. He believes the move into PNG was a logical extension of the company’s presence in Fiji, Kiribati, Cook Islands, American Samoa, Samoa and Vanuatu.

‘We are on target to cover all of PNG’s provinces by June 2023 with our own tower network.’

‘PNG has a young population with huge mobile and social potential and the Vodafone rollout is on track,’ he tells Business Advantage PNG. Since launching, Vodafone has onboarded over 100,000 subscribers to its new 4G network.

‘We are on target to cover all of PNG’s provinces by June 2023 with our own tower network.’

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Having already covered 12 out of 22 provinces and currently expanding into the New Guinea Islands region, Singh says Vodafone PNG expects to have 80 per cent of the population covered by the end of 2023 and has its eyes on an eventual 30 to 35 per cent market share.

Prices fall

‘Since our launch, the price [for services to consumers] has moved down 30 to 40 per cent in the market, so there is definitely more competition out there and more promotions these days, which is good for the consumer,’ Singh says.

However, he suspects further price falls will depend on factors currently outside the control of PNG’s telcos: greater access to electricity in rural areas and the introduction of another international fibre-optic gateway to provide redundancy for the Coral Sea Cable System launched in 2019. (The government is looking at the Hawaiki Nui Cable, set to be laid adjacent to the Gulf of Papua by 2025.)

‘There’s definitely need for another high-capacity fibre connection. I don’t see prices moving any further next year but, once we get a second gateway, then you will see some movement in prices.’

Telstra’s big deal

Meanwhile, Australian telecommunications giant Telstra’s US$1.6 billion (K5.351 billion) deal to acquire PNG’s (and the Pacific’s) largest telco, Digicel Pacific, was finally completed in July 2022. To enable the arrangement, the Australian Government’s Export Finance Australia agreed to finance the bulk of the purchase price – US$1.33 billion (K4.66 billion) – while Telstra also received other protections, such as on currency risk.

While Digicel is now part of Telstra International, local management and strategy remains largely unchanged. ‘Digicel Pacific stays a stand-alone operating entity,’ says Colin Stone, CEO of Digicel PNG. In practice, this means investment in its network will continue as planned.

‘We upgraded our 4G network from 27 per cent population coverage to now 71 per cent, which was a huge investment across the network to be able to bring first world technology,’ says Stone. ‘If we don’t build telecommunications and give people access to world-leading technology in rural PNG, they’ll never use world-leading technology to make themselves efficient.’

‘You can’t just say, tomorrow, everything has to be in a digital form.’

The spread of telecoms infrastructure and the accompanying uptake of digital services such as internet banking, online tax lodgement and other e-commerce applications, increases the risk of cyber-crime. But Stone is quick to point out the major security benefits arising from the Telstra relationship.

‘The integration of Telstra’s world class cybersecurity capabilities into our services will not only help protect ourselves but the network and our customers,’ he tells Business Advantage PNG.

More change?

The arrival of Telstra and Vodafone has caused the government to approach PNG’s institutional investors with the aim of attracting new investment into its own telco, Telikom PNG.

‘That’s a conversation that’s currently a work in progress,’ observes Ian Tarutia, who sits on the board of Kumul Consolidated Holdings, the holding company for PNG’s state-owned enterprises, and was CEO of the Nasfund superannuation fund until this year.


While movements in the telco market are positive, Paul Komboi, Chief Executive Officer of PNG DataCo, flags the need for greater technical skills. While he identifies various initiatives across the industry to close skill gaps, he believes a greater collaborative approach between government, the educational sector and business is required.

Like Komboi, Digicel PNG’s Colin Stone believes that addressing these issues will take time.

While most homes in developed nations like New Zealand or Australia have a laptop they can use to sign up to digital services, by comparison Stone says, most Papua New Guineans outside the main centres still operate on a one-band, 2G phone.

What’s needed, he says, is an understanding of digital strategy evolution. ‘You can’t just say, tomorrow, everything has to be in a digital form,’ notes Stone. ‘It has to be balanced with the capability of the end user. We have done some work with the ICT ministry on their digital strategy, and you can’t have a digital strategy without a digital ecosystem.’

This feature was first published in the 2023 edition of Business Advantage Papua New Guinea, PNG’s premier business magazine. Read the emag here.

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