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Manatua Cable – The Polynesian Connection

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If there is one thing that Technical Manager Roy Pavihi is confident of, it is this: By the middle of next year, subscribers of Telecom Niue services will be able to live-stream, without interruption, the latest offering from Netflix and the like.

That technical innovation generally known as broadband, which has eluded subscribers in the past, will have arrived on the island. All this has been made possible by small strands of glass called fibre optics – thinner than the finest human hair – encased in a protective sheath that make up the Manatua marine cable lying deep on the ocean floor and running the breadth of Polynesia from Samoa to Tahiti.

Alright, so fibre optics has been around for a while, but it is only now that we have been able to access this technology thanks to the assistance from New Zealand. At one time there was talk of using fibre optics cable island-wide to replace the old copper wire but the cost proved to be prohibitive. But before the island can reap the benefits of fibre optics and broadband, there are still a few more hoops to jump through.

It is all very well to get the high tech cable ashore, but the information carried by that cable still has to find its way to the homes.

This is a stripped back view of the cable. All the digital information is carried by the small strands of glass fibre in the middle. All the other bits are for protection. Pic Talaniue.

Roy Pavihi: “The decision was made, after due consideration, that Telecom Niue will use wireless or over-the-air technology rather than the copper-wire network. Our copper-wire installation has become unreliable and difficult to maintain, besides which its capacity to carry data is nowhere as fast as wireless.”

That makes a lot of sense. There is little logic in bringing all that data ashore, only to bog down because the means of delivery to the household is out-dated and unreliable. And this is where the 4G network enters the equation.  

It’s fair to say that there is lingering doubt in the community about the 4G network but the confidence among subscribers is growing, at least for those who have access. There is no shortage of anecdotal evidence on the trials and tribulations of 4G. Liku residents say that it is ‘unusable’ and there are still issues with the use of i-phones. However according to Roy Pavihi, Telecom Niue is “…working hard with Apple in order to get i-phones certified for 4G”.

“At present we have six wireless sites operational. These are Kaimiti, Avatele, Hakupu, Lakepa, Mutalau and Makefu. Work is progressing well with the site at Hikutavake which will bring the total to seven. In the New Year, the village of Liku will be added to the network”.

The new system will replace the existing ADSL modem and its copper wire connection, with a faster wireless 4G modem. This modem will receive the signal from the nearest tower or mast depending on your location. Anyone in the household can then access the internet with a desktop PC, laptop or smart phone.  Smart phones can still be used in the normal way but at the cost of a separate package.

This satellite dish was provided by the French Government following Cyclone Heta in 2004. It will continue to be used as backup. The attachments on the tall mast is part of the 4G installation. Pic – Talaniue.

By all accounts households who are now using 4G and who have in the past, struggled with the old ADSL technology, say that the improvement is astonishing.  

The question that subscribers are anxious for an answer to, is obviously the cost. Will the Manatua cable result in a lower cost?

This is one of the hardest questions to answer, says Pavihi. “We’re hoping that there will be some reduction, but we are working with a small customer base. Obviously the more subscribers we have the better it is for us to spread the cost.”

Currently Telecom Niue has a number of packages on offer. For local 4G smart-phone users, packages that includes data, text and calls, range in cost from $21 to $104 over a 60 day period.

For those on wireless 4G modems, it is $12 for 1GB up to $160 for 25GB over 60 days.

Meantime the cable ship is heading further east towards the Cook Islands and Tahiti. Early in the New Year, once the cable has made its last landfall in Tahti, a small team of engineers will arrive to work and to carry out tests on the cable. By mid-year, it is expected that the cable will be ready to come online, but this will not mean the end of the satellite station at Kaimiti. That facility, which has served the island well for a number of years, will continue as a backup for the Manatua cable. The satellite dish was donated by France following the Cyclone Heta in 2004.

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So where does that leave the other Internet Service Provider Kaniu? It appears that Kaniu is also on the move. According to media reports Kaniu has signed up with a new satellite service provider Kacific. The Singapore based company has just launched a new satellite capable of delivering broadband for customers in Asia and the Pacific. The satellite is said to be capable of delivering fast internet directly to subscribers, rivaling the marine cable services. Currently the Kaniu network charges $50 a month for an unlimited download; the catch is that it is quite slow.

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