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Repair ship on its way, but Tongan internet users still struggle to stay connected

Repair ship on its way, but Tongan internet users still struggle to stay connected

While a cable repair ship is still nine days away from Tonga, internet customers in Vava’u and Ha’apai are struggling to stay connected.

Repair ship on its way, but Tongan internet users still struggle to stay connected
Tonga Cable Ltd

Customers have been warned that satellites may not be the solution, even though Elon Musk’s Starlink has applied for a license to operate in the kingdom.

Sources said Kaniva News It was difficult to make calls via Digicel and the ATM service was ‘up and down’.

According to our source, EFTPOS was barely working, hampering transactions.

While the internet has improved, the good times are still there every now and then and there are still “off hours.”

The ABC’s Pacific Beat said internet service to Vava’u and Ha’apai was severely disrupted earlier this month, forcing internet providers to switch to satellite internet. The rest of the country remains connected.

According to Edwin Liava’a, former director of Tonga Cable Company, fibre offers more capacity and bandwidth, but constant outages make satellite providers more attractive.

According to media reports, Tongan internet users are using Elon Musk’s Starlink satellite service, but this has come at a cost.

The government is not happy with people using Starlink. They say it is technically illegal because the American company is not a registered provider in Tonga.

However, the Tongan government is considering granting Starlink a license to provide broadband internet services in Tonga.

Prime Minister Hu’akavameiliku Siaosi Sovaleni said Starlink has applied for a license to operate and the government is considering it.

People in Tonga living in areas with poor internet coverage are already using Starlink connections to manage their business internet and to communicate with family and friends.

This has raised the question of whether the government should have had a satellite backup plan already or whether a second cable would be a better answer.

A government spokesperson said Kaniva News tonight a second cable was needed to support the existing cable.

Satellite backup was also needed when the cable was completely disrupted with limited capacity. Cable had high capacity and repair costs, but low operational and maintenance costs.

Satellite connectivity capacity was low, but operational costs to provide backup telecommunications were high.

“Satellite technologies like Starlink have a very low operational cost, but are only suitable for homes and offices, not as a backup for telecoms,” the spokesperson said.

Questions have been raised about whether the government should have sought help from foreign naval vessels, including helicopters.

A special cable repair vessel is sailing from Singapore to Tonga and is expected to arrive in the islands next Thursday (July 18).

A spokesman for the Ministry of Communications said the cable appeared to have been snapped by a recent earthquake near the Hunga Tonga Hunga Ha’apai volcano. It was discovered 73-96 km (45-60 miles) off Tonga’s main island of Tongatapu and northwest of the Haapai Islands.

The ministry has a reserve cable of approximately 60 km long, with which it hopes to cover the damage.

“Otherwise we will have to wait to make time for the production of new cables,” the ministry said.

This is the third time that the Tonga submarine cable has been disrupted.

In January 2019, Tonga’s cable was cut in an incident that Tongan authorities attributed to a Malta-registered vessel, the Duzgit Company.

Tonga Cable reports that the cable was cut into four pieces by an anchor being dragged along the seabed.

In 2022, the Hunga Tonga volcanic eruption destroyed parts of the cable, cutting Tonga off from the rest of the world.

At the time, we reported comments from Dean Veverka, technical director of Southern Cross Cables, which owns two other cables in the area.

He said satellites can only handle a small percentage of the data traffic from a given country.

“Today, submarine cables carry about 99 percent of all communications between countries,” he said.