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On June 4th, the Commerce Commission released its report titled PRICE AND ACCESS DETERMINATION FOR SOUTHERN CROSS CAPACITY AND NETWORK. You can access the full report on the Commision’s website and it’s also provided for download here.

schedule of price changes

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An earlier post on next-generation wireless deployment dealt with standards viable for commercial deployment (WiMAX & LTE). Incumbent operators and new ISPs will utilize this technology to extend the reach of connectivity.  Here, the discussion will focus on two attempts to extend network coverage to indigenous communities in North America.

In the United States, Native American reservations remain some of the most unconnected populations, but these underserved and forgotten communities are gearing up for the future. Our first examples comes from Sacred Wind, an operator serving Indigenous communities in New Mexico.  Their investment in new wireless infrastructure that is commercially viable means a dramatically different outlook for their customers:

Sacred Wind is building a fixed WiMax network using Fujitsu access gear over the 3.65 GHz unlicensed band to extend phone and broadband access to a community that the telecom industry seems to have forgotten. Of the 8500 households distributed among thousands of square miles, only 29% have phones, but after Sacred Wind’s $70-million project is complete, John Badal, Sacred Wind’s chief executive officer, hopes to have more than 90% of the population connected to voice and broadband through some combination of copper, fiber and wireless point-to-point and point-to-multipoint technologies.

Our second example differs from the first because it is not the project of a telecom operator.  Based at the University of California, San Diego, the High Performance Wireless Research and Education Network (HPWREN) works to build for research purpose, experimental wireless network connectivity over a wide expanse of difficult terrain in Southern California.

HPWREN addresses education needs of rural indigenous communities

HPWREN addresses education needs of rural indigenous communities

Funded by a National Science Foundation grant, HPWREN is a research project that is utilized by:

  • researchers in a wide range of science and engineering disciplines
  • planning agencies working in disaster management and emergency services
  • Native American communities building distance education capabilities

Read more from a PDF brochure outlining project initiatives.  Below is a map of their current network deployment:

Research and Education Networks in the San Diego area. Click image to view in Hi-resolution

Map of Research and Education Networks in the San Diego area. Click image to view in Hi-resolution

For Pacific Island nations, the low rate of Internet take-up in the population represents a market failure on two fronts: the provision of backhaul and last-mile service.  Where market failures exist, it is the prerogative of regulatory bodies to step in to address the underlying issues.  It’s absolutely critical that regulators put in place appropriate incentives to get operators to deploy networks to as wide a segment of the population as possible.

WiMAX technology is allowing Sacred Wind to address a concern and extend the reach of their business to customers who were previously unreachable.  Similarly, the work of researchers in San Diego seeks to expand the capabilities of wireless networks, while also providing benefits for research and education.  Taken together, these two examples highlight the potential of wireless technology.

Where communities in the Pacific still remain outside the reach of new expanded service, the duty of the regulatory body should be to ensure that operators are properly incentivized to continue the expansion of networks. For these still existing beyond the reach of connectivity, efforts like those undertaken by HPWREN should be utilized to further the expansion of network coverage.

The newly convened Telecommunications Authority of Fiji (TAF) is to fund its operation from levies collected from operators.  Setting aside a portion of these dollars to fund projects that expand the coverage area (while providing benefit to academic researchers and distance education) might prove worthwhile.  It might also serve as an effective resource to assist industry in continually improving network coverage and performance.

o3b-logoOn Wednesday, I had the chance to  speak with representatives of O3b Networks via conference call. I talked to Nara Sihavong who is their Regional Director of Sales, Asia-Pacific. Also on the call were John Dick,  from Regional Sales and Mike Serrano, Director of Marketing. Together, they updated me on what has been going on at O3b since the launch of operations in Sept. ’08.  They also briefed me  on the company’s plans in the Pacific.

ITU Ministerial Meeting in Tonga, Feb 17-20

ITU Ministerial Forum in Tonga, Feb 17-20: "Connecting the Unconnected"

O3b launched operations in September of 2008 with Google, HSBC, and Liberty Global as primary investors.  Initial focus of the company’s sales and marketing efforts has been on African countries.  However, O3b’s overarching mission is to provide improved connectivity for emerging economies, the “other 3 billion”. They have been quick out of the gate, signing agreements with several  operators & ISPs, including the Microcom, the largest ISP in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Coconut Wireless has covered O3b Networks here, here, and here.   O3b’s presence at PTC ’09 in Honolulu was the kick-off of its efforts in the Pacific.  It was at PTC ’09 where they revealed details of their plans to offer improved connectivity to the Pacfic Islands.

The recent ITU meeting in Tonga was part of this effort and the O3b team met with Ministerial level delegates to pave the way for further talks in Pacific Island nations. Nara then spent a week in Fiji, where he held meetings and discussions with the telecom operators.

He reports an enthusiastic response from the operators and adds that he sees the business development units within these companies moving with an urgency that reveals their understanding of what increased competition means for market dynamics.

Nara Sihavong

Nara Sihavong

O3b also met with the members of the Communication Ministry and outlined to them the kind of support  and guarantees government would have to come forward with in order to get services underway in Fiji.  For ministers in the region, O3b offers a new pathway to building up ICT sectors which can become generators of employment and income.

As a provider of backhaul service, O3b would not provide direct service to customers in the region.  Instead, they are looking for agreements with ILECs, CLECs, mobile providers and  ISPs.  For remote areas not currently served, O3b would be interested in talking to entrepreneurs interesting in building ISPs.

When agreements are in place, O3b will work with existing operators in Fiji, like FINTEL, Vodafone, TFL, and Digicel.  O3b is also in similar discussion with operators in other Pacific countries.  Any provider who signs on with O3b  gains superior quality connectivity to the international infrastructure, something that is only possible now through two very expensive options, the Southern Cross Cable Network or GEO satellite service providers.

With O3b, at the national level, governments do not have to wait for undersea cables.  A look at the following map of the region will show how O3b is mapping all the islands for service:

Proposed coverage for Pacific Islands (Please click image to view in Hi-res)

Proposed coverage for Pacific Islands (Please click image to view in Hi-res)

They can leap frog that process that can take years, take a look at what O3b can do and create a congruent domestic and international network to inter-connect all their remote islands:

How O3b works: A diagram of QuickStart and QuickVar Solutions

How O3b works: A diagram of QuickStart and QuickVar Solutions

O3b would provide the backhaul service and the telecoms would deploy wireless (WiMAX or LTE) or cable networks to reach customers.  Signing service agreements with O3b would mean realizing huge cost savings, which hopefully is the incentive that the incumbent telecom operators need to ensure wider propagation of  services at much lower costs.

View Slideshow with company info:

PowerPoint available for download here (approx. 3 MB)

3.5m fixed terminal for Tier 1 service

3.5m fixed terminal for Tier 1 service

The savings are significant.  Telecoms in the Pacific currently pay in the range of $3,000-$6,000/mbps, where O3b can provide superior service at a fraction of that cost: $600/mbps for QuickStart.

O3b is a Medium Earth Orbit (MEO) operator meaning much smaller satellite dishes are required.  This is because the satellites will orbit about 8,000 km above earth, as opposed to the 36,000 km of existing Geostationary (GEO) platforms. This is an important distinction because it means significantly lower costs for ground equipment. The shorter distance that the signal has to travel to reach a satellite in MEO orbit is what allows for low-latency connections. As MEO technology becomes more widespread and cheaper, even greater savings could be realized. Learn more about what MEO and GEO mean.

A large part of our conversation revolved around the regulatory picture in the S. Pacific.  With the ADB and World Bank pushing for liberalization of telecommunications in the region, there is for the first time considerable pressure to change the status quo, which has protected monopolies and the high prices and poor service they offer.

According to Nara,  O3b’s technology offering necessitates a re-examination of plans for coping with future infrastructure needs. This moment presents an opportunity for telecom operators, regulatory bodies, and those at the ministerial level to look at their long-term planning and reformulate their outlook for the next 5 and 10 years.

O3b Service can help different providers address their needs

O3b Service can help ISPs and mobile providers address their needs

There are early signs of misunderstandings that can take place.  As the people who have to ensure successful implementation of liberalization efforts, regulatory bodies have a key role to play.  In Papua new Guinea,  regulators require fees for licensing satellite operators to provide service. This is a deviation from normal practice and could be a hindrance to O3b’s entrance into the PNG market.

The challenge is on for all stakeholders in the Pacific to be creative in getting the most out of this technology.  In my early posts on Ensuring Universal Access (Part I, Part II), I outlined how next generation wireless deployments should allow for ‘piggybacking’ for schools and emergency services.  For this to be realized, this is something that regulators need to demand of operators.

John remarked that the game-changing technology is an example of how innovation is being used to overcome a real problem.  Low-cost satellite offers the potential to deploy ubiquitous Internet coverage, dramatically altering the landscape of what is possible for the economies of these countries.  This is something not true of submarine cable projects, which can languish on the drawing board for years without any real progress.

For many Pacific countries who have been contemplating spending many millions to get undersea fiber connections , the dream of high-speed connectivity is a step closer to reality.  With O3b, they can pursue fiber-like connectivity at a fraction of the cost, allowing them to invest in other projects critical to social and economic development.

Where do we go from here...

Getting from here, to where we need to be...

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