SES steps in to keep Tonga connected while cable repairs continue
Digicel Pacific – now owned by Telstra – has extended its partnership with satellite company SES to provide resilient communications to Tonga, which was cut off by a volcano earlier this year.
The company, whose sale to Telstra for US$1.6 billion was completed in July, lost all contact with the world when the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano (pictured) erupted in January, will use SES’s O3b satellites to deliver low-latency and high-throughput connectivity and protect the Tonga population from future communication interruptions in the event of a natural disaster.
The eruption destroyed not only the single cable connecting Tonga to Fiji and the rest of the world, but also a cable linking many of Tonga’s other islands. It was described as a once-in-100-years event.
SES’s O3b satellites are orbiting 8,000km above the surface in medium earth orbit (MEO) and delivers low-latency connectivity services to any area within 50° north or south of the equator.
The main cable, linking Fiji with the main island, Tongatapu, and nearby Eua, was repaired and put back into service in late February, but work is still continuing on the damaged cable connecting the islands of Vava’u and Tongatapu.
Participants at a SubOptic Foundation conference in London yesterday said that surveys of the seabed around Tonga showed that, despite the risks associated with the existing cable route, it was the safest available, given the seismic activity of the region.
SES said its O3b MEO satellite service provides Vava’u residents of with connectivity. Once the cable is fully repaired, it will become a resiliency service to the main cable that connects the island to Tongatapu.
“The islands in the Pacific are highly vulnerable to natural disasters, and it is vital during such crises to have resilient network connectivity,” said John Turnbull, director of the Pacific region at SES.
“This is crucial in ensuring relief efforts can go smoothly and the affected populations can connect with their families and loved ones living in other parts of the world.”
SES is planning its second-generation O3b mPower satellite system. This “promises unprecedented flexibility, unparalleled throughput and scalability, all of which are key to providing resiliency for vulnerable communities across Asia Pacific”, said Turnbull.
The first six satellites are due to be carried on three launches in in the fourth quarter of this year. O3b mPower 7 and 8 are due for launch in 2023, with a further launch, of O3b mPower 9, 10 and 11, due in 2024. The system is expected to start service in early 2023.
The rest of the Digicel group, covering the Caribbean and central America, is still owned by businessman Denis O’Brien.