The quality and price of internet access in Timor-Leste only improve if the country reduces supply costs by building an undersea fibre-optic cable, a company official said.
Until then, Michael Ackland, who is national director of Governance and Strategic Projects at Vocus Group – the fourth largest Australian telecommunications company – said the country may have national competition, but the price will remain “astronomically high.”
Ackland said that operators in Timor-Leste spend $ 12 million a year on acquiring access to the international network through satellite, with this figure being then multiplied into costs for customers with slow and unstable speeds.
“The price here is on average $ 200 per megabit per second per month, and Timor buys 8 gigabits, which is $ 12 million,” he said, noting that the price per megabit per second in Darwin is only “$ 5 to $ 6 “.
Michael Ackland is in Dili for talks with the Government and the sector on the possible construction of an international submarine fibre-optic cable to Timor-Leste.
The group wants to be Timor-Leste’s partner (without being a builder) in a possible link from the south of the country to another recently completed cape that passes along the maritime border with Australia in the Timor Sea.
The Vocus network includes, among others, a cable linking the Australian city from Perth to Singapore and another connecting it to Port Heldand in north-west Australia and then continuing to Darwin, past the Timor Sea border.
It would be from this cable, the North Western Cable System (NWCS), that a submarine cable connection of 250 kilometres would be possible to the south of East Timor.
After entering the south, the data connection would be made to the rest of the country through the national fibre-optic system that was installed in OPGW cables with the power grid.
Overhead Power Ground Wire (OPGW) cables are wires that are installed on high-voltage power lines where fibre-optic cables are inserted and operate both as lightning arresters and for data and voice transmission.
Ackland explains that when the NWCS was being built it was decided to contact Timor-Leste and see the willingness of that eventual connection, with the group choosing to expand fibre capacity and installed a ‘T’ connection to allow this to happen.
“We could not build a system and change it later. If we had not made that extra expense, an investment of several million at the time, we could not make the connection,” he recalls.
In Timor-Leste, the submarine cable issue has already raised a number of agreements and announcements in the past, including an “option agreement” with Vocus, without any of the proposals being made so far.
In 2015 sources of the executive confirmed that the government was studying proposals from a consortium between China’s Huawei and the British and Norwegian group Marine, and another from the Australian group Nextegn.
In 2017 the VI Government signed the “option agreement” with the Vocus Group, which ends in July, and which the company is available to extend.
Already in 2018 the VII Government – which fell due to the dissolution of parliament – signed a letter of intent with two Indonesian companies for optical fibre between the Indonesian island of Alor and Timor-Leste.
This project, in an investment of around 20 million dollars and that involved the companies Moratelindo and Telin, was contested by the majority opposition that is now the coalition of the Government.
Ackland recommends that in the case of Timor-Leste the cable should be built by an independent entity, owned 100% by the State or in a public-private partnership, but without leaving any “monopoly advantages” to any of the operators.
“If you are one of the operators, you can basically ruin the other operators, so we recommend having an independent company or entity to give equal access to all operators,” he said.
The construction, he explained, could be made in less than a year, representing a “very significant reduction in price and a significant increase in speed.”
“The issue is not just building the cable itself, it’s the question of where it’s connected, you can connect to Indonesia for 20 million, but that’s just cable and not the rest,” he said.
“Many of the cables in Indonesia are not buried, they are deposited on the seabed, and so they are always being cut,” he said, noting that the internet in Indonesia is “eight times more expensive” than in Australia.
Headquartered in Sydney, Vocus Group is an international telecommunications company founded in 2008 and now the fourth largest telecommunications company in Australia with more than 471,000 subscribers.
The company, which has more than 30 thousand kilometres of fibre and five thousand employees, provides telecommunications services as a wholesaler, retail and corporate sector in Australia and New Zealand, operating 23 data centres in both countries
In 2015 it acquired the company Amcom and merged the following year with the M2 Group into a business valued at A $ 3.75 billion, and acquired Nextgen Networks for $ 861 million. Australia’s largest telecommunications company, with more than 471,000 subscribers.