Long Suffering RMI Mobile Users To See Some Improvements

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Telecom hopes to reduce dropped calls from overloaded system

By Giff Johnson

MAJURO, Marshall Islands (Marianas Variety, Jan. 11, 2015) – Cell phone in the Marshall Islands has long out-stripped the system installed 20 years ago, and the National Telecommunications Authority has struggled to upgrade it for lack of funding.

But there is good news looming on the horizon for the thousands of cell phone users in Majuro, the nation’s capital, who frequently experience "dropped calls" from the overloaded cell system.

An initial stage of improvement work will finish next month, said NTA General Manager Tommy Kijiner Jr. on Friday.

"Our cell system upgrade is a continuing process that depends on the revenue we get," said Kijiner. NTA has spent over $600,000 on cell system improvements in Majuro since late last year and expects to complete the initial work on the nine base transceiver stations or BTS around Majuro Atoll. He says this upgrade should greatly reduce the occurrence of dropped calls, which has been the biggest problem experienced by cell users.

As part of the upgrade, NTA has identified many cell "blind spots" and will be installing additional substations as it has money to do so.

Ten years ago, there were 911 cell phone users in Marshall Islands.

Today there are over 19,000, said Kijiner.

"That’s a big spike for a small operation like NTA to catch up with," said Kijiner of why the existing cell system has been overloaded, resulting in poor service, including frequent dropped calls.

"We hope to stabilize the BTS substations by the end of February, and if we have enough money, then we’ll pick out the blind spots for additional substations," he said.

The upgrade that is now happening on the nine substations is adding more capacity to handle a larger volume of cell phone traffic at the same time.

Currently, NTA’s cell system operates in a 2G format. There has been some pressure on NTA to move to a 3G system. "We can’t talk 3G until the 2G system is stable," he said. Even then, he added, a 3G system — which provides mobile broadband through cell phones — may be too expensive for the Marshall Islands market. It will cost around $5 million for installation of a new 3G system, he said. "Can we get a return on our investment if we do this?" he asked. "It’s doesn’t seem so." That’s why NTA has focused on establishing wifi hot spots around Majuro, and is working to improve the existing cell system.

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