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High speed Internet made possible by new undersea cable

PAPEETE, Tahiti (Tahitipresse, Dec. 23, 2009) – Tikiphone, French Polynesia's sole mobile telephone service provider, now offers a 3G+ network that provides a high-speed Internet access via a computer or a "smartphone".

The 3G+ network, which opened on Dec. 15, covers a Papeete metropolitan area that extends from Tahiti's north coast Commune of Mahina to the west coast Commune of Punaauia.

Today's 500 users are expected to increase to 30,000 over the next three years as the Honotua undersea fiber optic cable from Hawaii to Tahiti allows the 3G+ network to expand to French Polynesia's Leeward Islands.

The cable has been installed from the Leeward Islands of Bora Bora, Raiatea and Huahine to Tahiti's sister island of Moorea and to Tahiti and is now being installed from Tahiti to Hawaii, where it is due to arrive in February.

The 3G+ network works with any "smartphone", a collective term applying to a variety of mobile phones offering advance capabilities. They include the iPhone 3G, Blackberry 8820 and several versions Nokia mobile phones.

A 3G+ connection to the Internet may also be made using what looks like a USB flash drive, or memory key, but is actually a "Vini 3G+ key". "Vini," Tahitian for a tiny bird that quickly flies from place to place, is the name used for all 2G mobile phones in French Polynesia.

The Vini 3G+ key allows computer users to access the Internet via the Vini network. When used with a laptop computer, the key permits users anywhere within the Papeete zone to access the Internet without needing to use a cable or Wi-Fi connection.

The connection speed using the 3G+ network is 800 kilobits/second, or four times faster than the 2G network speed of 200 kilobits/second.

Tikiphone is a wholly owned subsidiary of the French Polynesia Office des Postes et Télécommunications (OPT). Mana, another OPT subsidiary, is French Polynesia's Internet service provider.

Tikiphone provides mobile phone services to more than 180,000 customers (2008 figure), its 2G network covering 98 percent of the estimated 260,000 people living in Tahiti and Her Islands. Mana, which was created in 1997, has nearly 25,000 Internet subscribers, according to a recent news report.

There are two potential competitors for Tikiphone in the 3G+ mobile phone network—Mara Telecom, which contracted with Nokia Siemens Network, and Digicel Pacific Ltd. However, neither has obtained the full French Polynesia government authorizations to start up competing businesses.

The undersea fiber optic cable known as Honotua, Tahitian for "the link towards the open sea", is due to be hooked up in June between Hawaii and Tahiti. That will increase the speed of transferring digital information from today's maximum of 500 megabits per second to more than 20 gigabits per second. So the new speed will be 40 times faster than today's speed.

The Honotua project is being carried out by Alcatel-Lucent Submarine Networks (ASN), a specialist with similar cable-laying projects in other parts of the Pacific. Pacific LightNet, one of Hawaii's oldest Internet service providers, will operate the Honotua system in and out of Hawaii.

Honotua is just one element in the development of information technology via undersea cables throughout the South Pacific. Adding up the distances covered by the various cable projects—from Australia and New Zealand to Tahiti and Hawaii, and most of the islands along the way—produces a total of 13,355 kilometers (8,298 miles).

The overall 9.5 billion French Pacific franc (US$119m/€79.6m) cost includes the 1.871 billion French Pacific francs (US$23m/€15.7m) for the 394 kilometers (245 miles) of cable work just completed in French Polynesia. It also includes 7.656 billion French Pacific francs (US$96m/€64m) for the cable link work underway between Tahiti and Hawaii (4,650 kilometers, or 2,889 miles, of cable).

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