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$33 million telecom project to bring high-speed network

NUKUALOFA, Tonga (Matangi Tonga, Jan. 25, 2012) – A ground-breaking ceremony for the construction of a Landing Station for a $US33 million submarine fiber-optic cable telecommunications network for Tonga, was led by the Prime Minister, Lord Tu'ivakano at Sopu, on the Nuku'alofa waterfront on January 24.

The US$33million project, jointly funded, 80 percent by the World Bank and Asian Development Bank, and 20 percent by the Tonga Communications Corporation (TCC), is expected to be in operation by the second quarter of 2013.

Lord Tu'ivakano said there were continued efforts to provide a faster and a cheaper telecommunications service for Tonga. Since satellite communication was introduced in 1978, there was growing demand for a faster and a cheaper network, and the new submarine fiber-optic cable network would be the answer.

Tonga Cable Ltd was established in 2009, with it ownership 80 percent government and 20 percent TCC. The company received a Wholesale Communications License on 18 October last year, which will allow it to provide wholesale telecommunications networks to telecommunications carriers, including the TCC, the Digicel Group and other Internet Service Providers (ISPs).

Robert Bolouri, the interim Managing Director of TCL, said that when the service comes into full operation during the second quarter of next year, it would have a total capacity of 320 gigabits, which is 6,000 times more than the 50 to 55 megabits full capacity of the satellite network that is available to Tonga now. But Robert cautioned that the 320 gigabits is the full available capacity, "but that is not what they will utilize. At the start of the project, 20 gigabytes will be lit and ready, how much of that will be used is up to the communication companies in Tonga."

The interim CEO of TCC, Rizvi Jurancapathy, said that he was looking forward to the new fiber-optic cable service with its bigger bandwidth and a faster network. He said that TCC would shift its operation to the new network when it came into operation next year, "but we will keep the satellite network as a stand-by in case of a break down in the cable network."

Steven Bannon, the CEO of Digicel said that they are in full support of the government's attempt to introduce bigger bandwidth and a faster network, but they were still waiting to hear from TCL with regards to speed, bandwidth and price. "We have not made a final decision, and we understand that TCL has a lot of work to do. Our decision will be based on what is good for our customers." He said that they might even have the two networks running in parallel.

Saia Faletau, the representative of the Asian Development Bank and the World Bank in Tonga, said that the Submarine Fiber-optic Cable Network project is the biggest project to be funded by the World Bank in Tonga and he believed that it is a "game changer," because it would create jobs and opportunities, and it would speed up the process of transmitting remittances to Tonga.

The construction of the Landing Station will be carried out by Ca'Bella Pacific Construction. It is a two storey building with the administration on the ground floor and the upper level will house the equipment and Network Operation Centre.

Robert Bolouri said that a company to carry out the second component of the project, the supplying of associated equipment and the construction of the approximately 837 kilometer cable from Fiji to Tonga should be confirmed by the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank by February.

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