Tonga signs 15-year satellite deal after January cable outage

Access to the Kacific1 satellite will provide 89 outer islands with broadband speeds comparable to those seen in Tonga’s major cities.
Written by Corinne Reichert, Contributor

Following a subsea cable outage in January, the Tongan government has announced signing a 15-year deal with Kacific Broadband Satellites Group to provide higher-speed connectivity.

The agreement between Kacific and government company Tonga Satellite will see 89 outer islands gain access to bandwidth from the high-speed Kacific1 satellite.

"In the case of a fibre cable outage, similar to the one experienced over 12 days in January 2019, the satellite bandwidth can be redistributed and shared with Tonga's main centres," Kacific said.

"This partnership with the Tongan government ... showcases how building infrastructure in rural areas can help provide urban areas with back-up connectivity options in case of fibre malfunction or natural disaster," Kacific CEO Christian Patouraux added.

"Until now, rural areas were depending on urban centres to distribute their bandwidth to them. With Kacific's solution for Tonga, urban centres need rural and remote areas in reciprocal cooperation to complete the urban infrastructure build-up."

Minister for Commerce, Consumer, Trade, Innovation and Labour Dr Tevita Tui'Uata said the satellite connectivity would enable residents to access e-government applications. The satellite will mainly be used for government infrastructure including hospitals, schools, police stations, post offices, and health clinics and dispensaries.

"The Kacific system is uniquely designed for the rural and remote areas of our Pacific nations and beyond ... finally completing full broadband access to all residents of Tonga," Tui'Uata said.

The minister additionally lauded Kacific's "responsiveness and efficiency" following the subsea cable outage at the start of the year.

"This system also uniquely provides backup to avoid deep digital disruption as we have observed in our recent fibre cut," he said.

After a 12-day outage, the subsea cable between Fiji and Tonga was repaired on February 3, after originally falling over on January 20 with a second fault subsequently found.

Satellite providers rushed to fill the gap while the cable was down. Mobile network provider Digicel used SES networks, and local ISP Ezinet used a Kacific Ku-band satellite, while New Zealand carrier Spark helped get Tonga Communications back online using Intelsat satellites.

The 827km submarine cable between Tonga and Fiji connects to the Southern Cross Cable. It went live in August 2013, and was funded jointly by the Asian Development Bank and the World Bank. It was later extended out to the Ha'apai and Vava'u islands in April 2018.

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