New cable caters for online Samoa

By Sapeer Mayron 12 November 2019, 11:00AM

As internet use in the country rises rapidly, the newest Pacific fibre internet cable is going to be installed this month, starting in Moata’a, Samoa.

The 3,700 kilometre Manatua Cable will connect fibre to Niue and the Cook Islands (Rarotonga and Aitutaki) for the first time, as well as Tahiti and Bora Bora in French Polynesia.

Specialist cable laying vessel SubCom Reliance is on its way with the cable and Samoa Submarine Cable Company Director, Pepe Christian Fruean, believes the first stretches will be installed at the end of the month.

The entire cable should be installed by January 2020, which will begin a rigorous six month testing process. The Manatua Consortium (the Governments of the connecting countries) expects the cable to be operational by June 2020.

Samoa is primarily serviced by the 1,600 kilometre Tui-Samoa Cable which connects Samoa to Fiji via Wallis and Futuna. The Manatua Cable - also known as the One Polynesia Cable - will be mostly a back-up facility and potentially an addition to the Tui-Samoa.

Pepe said Tonga’s two week internet blackout in January caused by damage to its only undersea cable is a stark example of why the Manatua is necessary.

“As you get your first cable the issue that comes to hand is what is your restoration, what is your back up plan. That is basically what the Manatua represents to us,” he said.

“If we were to have an issue on our main cable we would switch our traffic and head over to Tahiti and Hawaii to get back to Sydney or the West Coast [of the United States].”

According to Pepe, Samoa’s internet use has also risen eightfold in a year and a half as more people go online for business and recreation. What was once a luxury has become a “basic necessity,” Pepe said.

More internet use means more demand for reliable services that are not at risk of blacking out, he said. 

“When you give someone a tool and they use it, their usage becomes exponential as they find new and different ways to use or communicate through the internet,” Pepe said. 

The undersea cables complement the services of satellites, Pepe said, which are still necessary in times of natural disaster or if undersea cables are damaged. 

“Our need for satellite is not as much as it was before but in certain circumstances there are needs for it,” he said.”

“In the event of natural disaster… a quick deployment of a small satellite unit can be the fastest way.”

In the future, Samoa may look to a commercial arrangement with the other parties involved with the Manatua Cable where a percentage of internet traffic may be routed through the Manatua Cable instead of the Tui Samoa.

“It could be a swap so say for example French Polynesia wanted to use our cable, we could to a traffic swap and it doesn’t cost the other country any more. That is more or less the theory,” Pepe said.

“We have every intention to use it to complement our connectivity and to ensure our restoration is first and foremost for the benefit of our customers. 

Continued investment on both fronts will help improve internet service “speed, reliability and affordability,” Pepe said. 

He was reticent to say whether the cables made internet specifically cheaper, saying instead that as systems improve, and the market competes for customers, inevitably people get more value for money.

“Before the Tui-Samoa Cable, four gigabytes cost $99. Now you can spend $50 and get 20 gigabytes,” he said.

But the achievement of which Pepe is proudest is the partnership between the Pacific nations. 

“The Polynesian Islands are working shoulder to shoulder to support each other,” he said.

“We believe the Manatua is the manifestation of the goodwill of our leaders and now it’s all come together. There is certainly a lot of excitement for Samoa and our Polynesian brothers and sisters.”

By Sapeer Mayron 12 November 2019, 11:00AM

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