Whilst this question is always asked, in the past few weeks it has been asked even more so. This article will explain why and what is being done about it.
18 July update: The PPC-1 was fixed ahead of schedule and internet is back to normal. Last week it deteriorated again but that was because the link between Port Moresby and Madang was interrupted.
The backbone of the internet is a network of thick cables that are laid under the sea. 99% of the information sent over the internet use these cables. Most countries have more than a few cables connected to it to optimise traffic depending on where it is going to or coming from. Papua New Guinea has 2 cables, the PPC-1 (PIPE Pacific Cable 1) and the APNG-2 (Australia PNG 2).
Papua New Guinea Internet
PNG DataCo / Telikom (Kumul Consolidated Holdings) owns the rights to sell bandwidth on both cables. Most internet providers in PNG use the PPC-1 cable except for Digicel and Speedcast (and a few others) who uses satellites; more on this later. The fact that we only have 2 cables and that the cables are relatively outdated is why internet is so expensive, slow and unreliable in PNG.
There are plans to build a network of undersea cables around PNG, called the NTN. This will help with getting fast internet for heaps more people around the country but the big step forward will be upgrading APNG-2. There are no plans for an APNG-2 upgrade as yet but a few people are talking about it.
What happened to PNG internet?
On 2 June 2017 an earthquake (5.9) near Madang caused a section of the PPC-1 cable to break about 600m offshore, source.
Nothing could have been worse for PNG’s internet situation. When the PPC-1 failed, everyone except for satellite customers switched to the APNG-2 cable. Why is that so bad? The bandwidth of the PPC-1 was almost 6Gbps which is six gigabits per second. The bandwidth of APNG-2 is just over 1Gbps.
To put that in context, Australia has about 100Tbps of cables connecting it to the world.
Note: Port Moresby gets to the PPC-1 cable via an unreliable fibre network between Moresby and Madang. There is also an even more unreliable wireless connection that bounces over about a dozen repeaters.
What’s being done about it?
The latest from Telikom is that a ship sent by TPG, the owner of the cable, is at Madang and they expect to have the cable fixed by the 22 June. There was a drama with getting permission from PNG to conduct the repairs but the ship left before they got permission assuming they would.
Long term we need to upgrade the APNG-2 to a decent cable; 20Tbps would be fine. Why? Port Moresby is the capital city and needs a reliable and fast link to the rest of the world. The Moresby-Madang link is unreliable due to landowner issues. 2Tbps is a joke for 7 million people (yes I know less than 10% of the population are online, I wonder why though).
Digicel as an alternative?
My contact in Digicel told me that they are absolutely loving this cable break. They have been using satellites for internet for a while now as they don’t like paying Telikom for a cable that is almost 8 years old. So far they have had at least 10 major business clients move to them and are negotiating many more. I can imagine that a few regular internet users (me included) are also moving back. Apparently they will have no issues with providing bandwidth for their new customers.
Crazy conspiracy theory time
Ok, now that all the facts are out of the way, let’s have some fun. This is pure speculation based on nothing but me making things up but imagine this…
Digicel pay a lot for satellite internet access and have plenty of bandwidth available. They can’t drop prices because they are in a price fixing racket with Telikom and DataCo to keep prices high. How can you get more customers without dropping prices? Destroy your competition. Digicel posts some scuba divers near Madang and wait for an earthquake. As soon as it hits, they dive down and break the cable. They don’t break the Guam-Sydney main section, just the tiny bit that connects PNG. There you go, the entire country’s internet options goes to shit except for theirs, as they have never relied on that cable. They get all the customers and only then undercut their competitors until they drive them into the ground. Luckily Telikom is owned by the government so they have plenty of money and legislation to overcome this… ha.
If you want another theory, PNGBLOGS are going with the story that Telikom are trying to devalue themselves in order to get bought for cheap by a private company; actually seems more plausible.
Telikom’s Twitter account for updates.
Greg’s Cable Map for more cable maps and specs.
Bernados Bag of Beans seems to be keeping on top of the situation.