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Turnbull confirms Solomon Islands subsea cable

Malcolm Turnbull has cited Pacific Islands cybersecurity in affirming funding for a subsea cable to be built between Australia, Solomon Islands, and Papua New Guinea.

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has confirmed that a telecommunications subsea cable between the Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea, and Australia will go live at the end of 2019.

In a joint statement with Solomon Islands Prime Minister Rick Houenipwela, Turnbull said the Australian government will be providing the "majority" of the funding for the project, which will have landing points in Port Moresby and Honiara.

"Today we affirm our commitment to deliver a high-speed undersea telecommunication cable between Australia and Solomon Islands," Turnbull and Houenipwela said.

"The joint project will be a first for Solomon Islands, which is wholly reliant on satellite technology to access the internet."

The project will enable Solomon Islands to improve security and boost economic growth, they added, but said the increased connectivity for Pacific Island nations would expose them to more cybersecurity risks.

"Through the Cyber Cooperation Program, Australia is working with Solomon Islands to manage these risks by strengthening its cybersecurity architecture and combating cybercrime," the two prime ministers said.

"Together, we can ensure these projects are transformational for Solomon Islands and foster a new phase in our strong bilateral relationship."

Telecommunications provider Vocus entered an agreement with Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) in January to scope out the design, construction, and procurement of the Australia-Papua New Guinea-Solomon Islands subsea cable.

The agreement with the government is worth AU$2.8 million to Vocus, according to tender documents.

Vocus had said the three-month scoping study would involve consulting with the governments of Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands, gathering detailed requirements, conducting a desktop survey, tendering the cable system project, and commencing permits.

"Vocus cable designs use the latest multi-terabit technology and would vastly improve the international connectivity of Papua New Guinea and bring high-speed international telecommunications to Solomon Islands for the first time," Vocus said.

Vocus also began laying the cable for its own Australia-Singapore Cable (ASC) project last month, with the larger portion of the subsea cable system expected to be laid by April 20.

The ASC, worth $170 million, will see around 3,000km of cable laid by the Ile de Batz ship between Christmas Island and Fremantle through deep water, while the Ile de Ré lays around 1,600km of cable between Singapore and Christmas Island in shallow water.

The latter ship could take around 100 days to complete its route, however, as it is more "challenging" and requires a 40-tonne plough to bury the cable to protect it from existing subsea cables, fishing vessels, anchors, and environmental elements.

Vocus is also upgrading its core domestic networks infrastructure to deliver an additional 8Tbps of capacity between Sydney, Perth, and Melbourne ahead of the ASC becoming ready for service.

The ASC remains set to go live in July despite adding a spur to Christmas Island, ahead of competitor cable systems Indigo and Trident.

The 4,600km ASC, which is designed to carry 40Tbps at a minimum across four fibre pairs, was originally a 50-50 joint-venture deal between Vocus and Nextgen Networks. Vocus subsequently purchased Nextgen Networks for AU$700 million in June 2016, paying an additional AU$27 million for the ASC and AU$134 million for the $139 million 2,100km fibre-optic North West Cable System (NWCS), which went live in September 2016.

Telecommunications carriers and consortiums have been racing to build out subsea cable capacity across the Asia-Pacific region, driven by the rapid increase in data usage globally.

In addition to the ASC, NWCS, Indigo, and Trident, these cables include the Hawaiki Transpacific Submarine Cable System; Southern Cross Cable Network's NEXT cable; the Asia-Pacific Gateway (APG); the FASTER cable; the Jupiter subsea cable being built by a consortium including Facebook, Amazon, SoftBank, NTT Com, PLDT, and PCCW; Superloop's Hong Kong cable; Telstra's Hong Kong Americas (HKA) and the Pacific Light Cable Network (PLCN); and Google's Japan-Guam-Australia (JGA) cable system.

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