Pacific Islands Development Program/East-West Center
With Support From Center for Pacific Islands Studies/University of Hawai‘i

Undersea project to begin in November

PAPEETE, Tahiti (Tahitipresse, Sept. 18, 2009) – Work on laying a high-speed undersea Internet, telephone and television cable is due to start at Bora Bora on Nov. 21 and end on the Big Island of Hawaii in February, French Polynesia Digital Economy Minister Jacqui Drollet announced Thursday.

The cable, which will create a 21st Century multi-media world in French Polynesia, is due to be operational next June, providing Internet users with one of the fastest broadband services in the Pacific.

But the project, known by its Tahitian name of Honotua, which means the link towards the open sea, is just one element in the development of information technology via undersea cables throughout the South Pacific.

Adding up the distances covered by the various cable projects—from Australia and New Zealand to Tahiti and Hawaii, and most of the islands along the way—produces a total of 13,355 kilometers (8,298 miles).

For the Honotua project, the speed of transferring digital information internationally between computers will increase dramatically.

Every digital transmission consists of a stream of bits, or Internet data building blocks, traveling between two points. Most descriptions of Internet bandwidth measure the speed of the traveling data in bits per second, according to The Economist Pocket Internet.

So once the Honotua cable is hooked up next June between Hawaii and Tahiti, the speed of transferring digital information will increase from today's maximum of 500 megabits per second to more than 20 gigabits per second.

One megabit is a unit of data storage equivalent to about 1m bits. So 500 Mbits equals 500m bits. One gigabit is equivalent to just over one billion bits, so 20 Gbits equals 20bn bits.

So the new speed of 20 Gbits per second will be 40 times faster than the present 500 Mbits per second. A technician at Mana, French Polynesia's only Internet service provider, confirmed the accuracy of these figures.

The speed for transferring digital information within French Polynesia will start at 5 Gbits per second.

The faster speed is directly related to the size of data bits the undersea fiber optic cable will be able to handle—a maximum of 640Gbit per second. Those bits will be carried back and forth over a 4,650-km (2,889-mile) cable from Hawaii to Tahiti and a 305-km (190-mile) cable from Tahiti to its sister island of Moorea and the Leeward Islands of Huahine, Raiatea and Bora Bora.

The French Polynesia Office des Postes et Télécommunications (OPT) is preparing a special building in Tahiti's north coast Commune of Papenoo, where the cable is due to arrive underwater from Bora Bora around Dec. 15 after arriving at Raiatea on Nov. 28, at Huahine on Dec. 2 and at Moorea on Dec. 11.

The cable-laying ship Île-de-Ré of Alcatel-Lucent will then take the cable to Hawaii, where it is expected to arrive at the Big Island on Feb. 24.

Honotua represents an investment of 9.5 billion French Pacific francs (US$121.8m/€82.4m). The French Polynesia government is going to cover 100% of the cost—2.2 billion French Pacific francs (US$28.2m/€18.4m) from the OPT budget; 5.8 billion French Pacific francs (US$74.4m/€48.6m) in OPT loans from the Banque Socredo; and 1.5 billion French Pacific francs (US$19.2m/€12.6m) directly from the government.

Digital Economy Minister Drollet noted, "Honotua is a (information technology) pipe. What's important is what we're going to put inside the pipe. The debate at the moment is about what we're going to build around Honotua."

He also spoke of his goal to make Tahiti a Pacific information technology hub. That would make the private cable project SPIN (South Pacific Islands Network) "an important element in this global strategy", Drollet said.

The SPIN cable will connect Nouméa, New Caledonia, with Auckland, New Zealand, 1,900 km (miles) to the southeast. It will also connect Nouméa with Tahiti, 6,500 km (miles) to the northeast. Along the way, the SPIN cable will hook up Norfolk Island, Fiji, Wallis and Futuna, Samoa, American Samoa. The Cook Islands and Tonga are not included in this project.

Thus, as Honotua bridges the digital divide in the sprawling French Polynesia, so will SPIN bridge the divide for the rest of the South Pacific.

Alcatel-Lucent, which obtained a turnkey contract with Tahiti's OPT in January 2008 for the €72.2m Honotua project, has obtained the contract for the 8,200-km (5,095-mile) SPIN undersea cable network project.

Alcatel-Lucent signed a contract last week with the SPIN companies for installing the undersea cable between Nouméa, Papeete and Auckland. Although the cost was not made public, there has been a report that the bill will likely be around 12.5 billion French Pacific francs (US$160m/€104.7m).

Besides hooking up with the Honotua cable, the SPIN cable also will link with the already completed Gondwana system linking Nouméa to Sydney.

French Polynesia's government is looking at taking a 15% stake in the SPIN capital, with its investment limited to 360 million French Pacific francs (US$4.6m/€3m), Drollet said earlier this week.

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