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Networking the challenging markets of the South Pacific

No fewer than 30 countries lie in the South Pacific region. Some are established players, such as Australia. Others are tiny specks of rock. Together they form Oceania...

The diversity of these telecoms markets, established or emerging, is great. In terms of size Australia and New Zealand are by far the largest countries but there are in total 30 countries in the region, and some of these are among the smallest countries in the world. Good cooperation exists at government level. However, contact is rather limited in terms of day-to-day business relationship. There has, therefore, long existed an appetite for a mechanism whereby the telcos of the island nations and territories could gain access to technology and business strategy insights articulated by service providers from Australia and New Zealand.

Oceania markets vary enormously in scale and in terms of the opportunities and challenges faced by telecoms operators. Two of the very smallest markets are the "micro states" of Niue and Norfolk Island. The former is home to fewer than 2,000 people and one of the world's smallest national telecoms networks. Mobile services are delivered over an AMPS network. Telecom Niue, the sole provider of fixed and mobile services, is led by Managing Director Richard Hipa.

In Norfolk Island, a marginally more populous, self-governing external territory of Australia, telecommunications comes under the control of Finance Minister, the Hon Neville Christian. Much bigger markets in the region include Fiji (popuation 853,000) Papua New Guinea (6.3 million) and Samoa (214,000). These markets have seen mobile penetration grow, stimulated by competition as new entrants do battle with incumbent service providers.

Jamaica-based Digicel, the mobile group which made its name invigorating Caribbean markets, has more recently acquired licenses and built networks in the Pacific. Digicel currently operates in Samoa and in Papua New Guinea and has acquired the Tonga operator Tonfon. The company also has been issued a license in principle to operate a GSM license from the Government of Fiji, as well as an experimental licence in the Solomon Islands. At the start of 2008, construction of mobile telephony infrastructure in Vanuatu is well underway, although no formal agreement has yet been announced. It is widely expected that Digicel will commence GSM service in Vanuatu very soon.

Digicel's main competitor in the mobile space in Vanuatu is incumbent carrier Telikom PNG. However, Telikom has yet to face similarly competitive market conditions in the fixed telephony arena. Leaders of incumbent telecoms businesses in the region are mindful of the success of mobile market liberalisation and must be ready for similar measures with regard to fixed line services. Digicel is headed up in Oceania by the CEO of its Papua New Guinea operation, Kevin O'Sullivan. Peter Loko is CEO of Telikom PNG.

The scale of the networking challenges in Oceania is huge. One person who understands them better than most is New South Wales-based telecoms analyst Paul Budde. Says Budde: "I strongly believe that we in the telecoms industry in Australia and New Zealand have an obligation to share with and assist our neighbours." For this reason Budde has been one of the central figures in a pioneering new event which will address this market - Oceania Com. Organised by Informa, Oceania Com will take place in Sydney on 7-8 July. Many of the individuals mentioned above will be present as well as SamoaTel CEO Mike Johnstone and Telecom Fiji CEO Taito Tabaleka.

Oceania Com is also supported by a range of fixed and mobile operators from Australia and New Zealand including the CEOs of AAPT, (Australia), Call Plus (New Zealand), Orcom (New Zealand), M2 Communications (Australia), Unwired Australia and Woosh (New Zealand). Guests of honour will include: Senator the Hon Stephen Conroy, Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Government of Australia; The Hon David Cunliffe MP, Minister for Communications and Information Technology, Government of New Zealand; and The Hon Duncan Kerr SC MP, Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs, Government of Australia.

Reflecting on Oceania, Budde comments: "I think we have created the ideal South Pacific networking event, a meeting point for people who, under normal circumstances, would rarely be in the same place at the same time. It will be an ideal environment in which to learn about what is happening in the South Pacific - what the issues and opportunities are. For vendors and suppliers this is an ideal event to establish business contacts; we all know how difficult and time-consuming it is to island-hop through the Pacific. Here you will have many island nations in the one place.

"Behind the scenes I am also talking to government representatives with the aim of reviving some of the inter-governmental policy issues in relation to telecommunications in the South Pacific - issues such as international telecommunication, satellite services, submarine cable access, harmonisation of regulations and so on. My intention is to create around this event opportunities for discussion on these issues, as well as opportunities for other bilateral and interest group meetings."

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