Papua New Guinea’s national broadband network speeding to completion


The dream of high speed broadband in Papua New Guinea has taken a step closer, with the completion of a fibre-optic cable connecting Gulf Province with the ExxonMobil-run PNG LNG plant, 20km north of Port Moresby.

Papua New Guinea's planned National Transmission Network. Right click to view a larger version in a new browser window. Data: IPBC

Papua New Guinea’s planned National Transmission Network. Right click to view a larger version in a new browser window. Data: IPBC

The cable was laid under a joint venture agreement between ExxonMobil, Oil Search Limited, the Southern Highlands Province and the Independent Public Business Corporation (IPBC)—the arm of government which (for the time being at least) manages state-owned enterprises and holds the State’s share in the LNG project.

Under the deal, the cable will also serve as part of the ambitious K685 million (US$313 million) National Transmission Network (NTN)—PNG’s national broadband network.

‘Our project telecommunications plan included fibre-optic cable from Hides [in PNG’s Highlands] to the LNG Plant and Port Moresby,’ explained Esso Highlands Managing Director Peter Graham at last week’s Australia–Papua New Guinea Business Forum in Port Moresby. ‘We recognised an opportunity for participation by third parties to share costs and benefits. The offshore section, which follows the route of the offshore pipeline, has just been finished. While this cable will improve telecommunications for long-term operations of the PNG LNG Project, there are clear benefits for the nation as high-speed telecoms are opened up across a broad swath of PNG.’

Transformational project

IPBC Chairman, Thomas Webster

IPBC Chairman, Thomas Webster

The overall NTN roll-out is being managed by the Independent Public Business Corporation (IPBC).

‘This is a transformational project for education and for business,’ enthuses Thomas Webster, the IPBC’s Chairman. ‘It will transform the way business is done in the country.’

He says the ultimate goal of the NTN is to provide fast reliable broadband to the country’s major population centres by connecting them to the international gateway in Madang on PNG’s northern coast. This gateway connects the country to the worldwide web via an undersea cable to Guam.

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A bigger gateway

Currently, most of PNG—excepting Madang and Lae, which were connected to the Guam gateway in mid-2012—is served by a second, older and less efficient gateway on Port Moresby’s Ela Beach. This connects PNG to the worldwide web via Sydney, Australia.

‘The Madang gateway is 100 times bigger than the Sydney link, which is only operating at 40%–50% efficiency due to the way the sea cable was laid,’ explains Webster.

Building the links

Once PNG as a whole is migrated from the Ela Beach gateway to that in Madang, first-world internet speeds will be possible.

For this to happen, however, a fibre-optic cable will be needed to connect Madang to Port Moresby and parts in between.

Which is where the ExxonMobil cable comes in.

With a data link now in place between the Southern Highlands and the PNG LNG plant, the next phase will be to connect the plant to Port Moresby’s broadband network—work currently under way. Once this is done, all that will remain is for Yonki, outside Lae, to be connected to Mt Hagen and finally Mendi in the Southern Highlands and presto! PNG will have its national broadband network.

Webster expects work to connect Yonki to the Highlands will commence this month, with the NTN complete by 2016.

A network of microwave transmitters will extend the reach of the NTN to smaller centres such as Vanimo, Wewak and the New Guinea Islands.

Ultimately, there are plans to roll out more fibreoptic cable to Daru in Western Province, Alotau in Milne Bay and across the Bismarck Sea to Rabaul (East New Britain).

Using existing infrastructure

Compared to the seemingly snail-paced growth of Australia’s National Broadband Network, for example, the speed with which the NTN is being created might seem overly ambitious.

However, the key to the fast roll-out, according to Thomas Webster, is the NTN’s use of existing infrastructure.

In the case of the Madang–Lae and Yonki–Mendi legs, this means hanging fibreoptic cable beneath PNG Power’s existing electricity transmission lines. In the Highlands, it has meant running the cable alongside the PNG LNG project’s gas pipeline. Such measures have not only sped out the roll-out, but have also meant significantly reduced costs.

New wholesale model

Once complete, the NTN will be handed over to the recently-created PNG DataCo Limited, which will wholesale bandwidth to those companies licenced to provide network services in PNG, such as Telikom PNG (which will be compensated for the loss of its network), Digicel, Vodafone Bemobile, Datec and Daltron.

Then it will be over to the nation’s businesses, universities, schools and bureaucrats to take advantage of this transformational network.