MANIHIKI TELECOMMUNICATIONS WAITING FOR EARTH STATION

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MANIHIKI
TELECOMMUNICATIONS WAITING FOR EARTH STATION

RAROTONGA, Cook Islands (October 18, 1999 – Cook Islands News)---Telecom Cook Islands has now completed the first phase of the telecommunications restoration project for Manihiki and Rakahanga atolls, costing TCI NZ$ 1.8 million dollars (US$ 927,000).

Cyclone Martin in November 1997 completely demolished the Telecom satellite earth station in Tauhunu village, leaving the people of Manihiki almost isolated from the outside world.

However, through coordination with the national emergency management systems, TCI quickly established emergency communications using an Inmarsat satellite terminal.

According to TCI, their local engineering team worked on a temporary solution to build a small exchange unit to reinstate satellite communications for Manihiki. Within a month, that was installed on Tauhunu, covering telephone services to 15 homes which had telephone cable that survived the cyclone.

A similar exchange was installed in Tukao last year, which extended the number of telephone services to 27 homes.

PROJECT TEAM

A project team lead by TCI Manager of Business Support's Edwin Utanga was formed in early 1998 and included key TCI engineering staff. Their objective was to develop a viable solution for the full restoration of Telecom services for Manihiki.

After much investigation and research, the project team had two main considerations:

§ to accommodate TCI's offices and equipment at the Cyclone Management Centre (CMC), Government and NZODA funded, in Tukao that was being coordinated by the Cyclone Disaster Management Project, or

§ to build its own facilities.

Utanga says, "Our proposal to be accommodated at the CMC Building was accepted by the TCI Board, with the building to be completed in January 1999. However the CMC project met with its own problems, and almost a year later we (the TCI project team) decided that we couldn't wait for the construction of the CMC building and went back to the board to recommend we build our own facilities."

He said "Thankfully, in March 1999, the board approved our recommendation, which also meant we could kill two birds with one stone - restore Manihiki's Telecom services and install telephone services for the island of Rakahanga."

The project team was pleased with the Board's decision, given that the project budget would cost TCI $1.8 million and that TCI would need to seek the entire funding on its own.

REBUILDING

Given the delays already suffered by the people of Manihiki and those people trying to contact Manihiki, the project team's main goal was to coordinate the construction of TCI's site as quickly as possible so that the technical equipment could be accommodated and Telecom services installed.

The project team sought the help of Cook Islanders to design, draw and build the Telecom premises in Manihiki, which suited the requirements of TCI and its insurers.

Utanga said, "The building had to be two-story, withstand cyclonic wind conditions and sea-surge, and be passively cooled naturally as air-conditioning was expensive and the salt-laden atmospheric conditions were likely to create havoc to electronic circuit boards."

A local engineer, Tenga Epi, designed the building, with the final design drawings completed by Henry Savage, TCI's own "autocad" expert. The design was then reviewed and approved by another local engineer, Atatoa Herman. In June this year, Jim Brown & Son Builders, Ltd., mobilized his team of nine workers to Manihiki to begin construction.

Utanga says, "TCI is very proud of the dedicated and professional workmanship conducted to ensure the building was completed within time. We all know that constructing any type of building in the outer islands is a feat in itself, let alone building a two-story building."

Brown and his team completed the building and returned to Rarotonga on October 2.

A team of TCI engineers and technicians, including John Teiti, Donald Munro, Carl Framhein and Macellino Akamoeau, left Rarotonga about the same time for Manihiki to begin the first phase of the equipment installation.

FIXED SYSTEM

TCI General Manager Philip Henderson said, "This team will be installing the first of its kind in the Cook Islands - a Fixed Wireless System (similar to the KokaNet cellular network but not mobile) where customers will be connected via a wireless system attached to a pole as opposed to cable underground.

Although this system was one of the more expensive options, TCI says it will provide greater flexibility in terms of reducing the amount of digging of house cables, extending coverage for the kaua (lagoon bases for the pearl farmers) in the Tauhunu area and nearby Rakahanga Atoll.

On Rakahanga, a 40-meter tower was installed by TCI's Tangi Kapi, Jr. and Eddie Tuati last month in time for installation of the wireless system.

Utanga says, "Tangi and Eddie could not have achieved this quickly without the help of the Rakahanga Island Council, the island's Mayor and MOID staff. We are very grateful to them for their assistance."

SECOND PHASE

The second phase of the project will begin once the satellite earth station arrives.

Due to the change of Air New Zealand aircraft from a Boeing 747 to a 767, the earth station, which was too large to fit in the 767 aircraft, now has to be delivered via sea, meaning longer delays. The equipment is expected to arrive at Rarotonga in mid-November and will be shipped to Manihiki for installation - meaning the completion of the project.

Henderson says, "Once the earth station is completed, the Manihikian and Rakahanga people con look forward to a reliable high quality phone service once again." - AJS/MS

For additional reports from the Cook Islands News Online, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/Cook Islands News Online.

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