Jun 16 2022

Catalysing Tuvalu’s ICT ambitions

By Dionisia Tabureguci, Islands Business Magazine

This article was first published on Islands Business Magazine.

A five-year agreement signed last year between the Tuvalu Government and satellite service provider Kacific Broadband Satellites International Limited (Kacific) came at critical juncture for the Polynesian nation, as borders closed in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

With a population of 12,000 people spread out over 11 islands, Tuvalu has quickly gone from a country with typically very poor broadband Internet connectivity to one with superhighway speed, at a time when it could have otherwise been severely isolated.

And improved connectivity is powering its ambition to become the world’s first paperless society, using blockchain technology to create a digital ledger. Tuvalu aspires to store all its data online using Bitcoin Satoshi Vision’s (BSV) public ledger, and transition to a digital currency.

A statement released by Tuvalu’s government and tech companies involved in the project, noted that while the country is “typically seen as “small,” “remote,” and “precariously placed,” Tuvalu and its partners view the nation’s characteristics as an ICT strength that will allow it to maneuver more rapidly in terms of tech development.”

Kacific, which co-owns the next generation geostationary satellite Kacific 1, has now shown that island nations like Tuvalu do not necessarily have to wait for the arrival of submarine telecommunication cables in order to access faster and affordable Internet.

“Our work with Tuvalu Telecommunications Corporation (TTC) is a model of how a State- Owned Enterprise can effectively meet a range of different connectivity needs within its country by developing tailored packages for stakeholders from a single substantial supply of internet bandwidth,” company founder and CEO Christian Patouraux told Islands Business.

“Kacific internet services are priced at around 50% less than the previous retail price of internet in Tuvalu, and at the same time are more reliable and deliver faster speeds than previous suppliers. Many customers in Tuvalu are served on smaller satellite dishes (1.2m in diameter) which can achieve speeds of up to 85mbps. One site can connect up to 200 users at any time. The rapid roll-out also proves that satellite is a much faster option than awaiting expensive ground infrastructure. TTC is targeting to increase internet penetration in the country from 49.3% to 75% with Kacific services,” Patouraux added.

In fact, the Kacific deal could not have come at a better time for Tuvalu, as it was able to take the quantum leap just before the coronavirus pandemic hit, borders closed, and global movement was restricted.

“Tuvalu signed its satellite internet agreement with Kacific during a time of great uncertainty for the nation, the Pacific region and the global community as a whole,” said Tuvalu’s Minister for Foreign Affairs and Telecommunications Simon Kofe, in his address at a recent telecommunications e-conference.

“The partnership began during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Government of Tuvalu took unprecedented precautionary protective measures – closing borders, encouraging people to return from the capital island to their home islands, and closing the only two secondary schools in the country.

“This should have been a time when we were cut off from each other and the world. However, given the need to physically distance ourselves, we had to find another way to connect – we had to bring our hospital together with regional and global hospitals and health organisations; we had to bring our children together for learning even if they were no longer on school campuses; and we had to continue as a nation functioning in a global society,” Kofe told the conference.

“Our partnership with Kacific and how it allowed us to almost immediately extend Internet coverage throughout our nation let us avoid some of the worst impacts of COVID-19. The pandemic has been an unforeseen tragedy for our world, but it has also been the major impetus behind Tuvalu’s accelerated adoption of digital services. Kacific infrastructure established due to the pandemic has been foundational to the Government of Tuvalu’s current moves towards digital transformation,” Minister Kofe continued.

Between the deal’s signing in July 2020 and January 2021, the number of Internet users in Tuvalu increased by 1.2% to 5, 849, while Internet penetration stood at 49.3% according to Patouraux.

“I believe that the increased accessibility to affordable high-speed internet will change the future learning outcomes and job opportunities for Tuvalu’s youth. Tuvalu Telecommunications Corporation and Kacific have connected the nation’s eight primary schools, two secondary schools and one specialised disability school with small VSAT satellite dishes for online learning and teacher training,” he said.

The Ka-band Kacific1 satellite was launched in 2019 by SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida and will orbit in the same location above Asia and the Pacific region during its estimated 15-year service life.

Kacific has relationships with Government agencies, Telcos and ISPs more than 20 Pacific Island nations, including residential and enterprise distributors in the Cook Islands, FSM, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, Kiribati, Fiji, Tonga, Samoa, Papua New Guinea and New Zealand. The satellite can provide coverage to 25 nations across Asia Pacific.