A major new report on the economic and social impact of ICTs in the Pacific has confirmed the rapid and impressive growth of mobile phones and the Internet in the region, despite a number of challenges.
According to the report :
- Mobile coverage across Fiji, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga and Vanuatu has jumped from less than half of the population in 2005 to 93 per cent of the population in 2014.
- The cost of mobile calls has declined by one third between 2005 and 2014.
- The percentage of cell phones in Pacific households has risen from 49 per cent in 2007 to 93 per cent in 2014.
- Recent connectivity to submarine cables has resulted in an explosion of capacity. International Internet bandwidth jumped over 1,500 per cent between 2007 and 2014 rising from fewer than 100 Mbit/s to over 1 Gbit/s (excluding Fiji, which had already connected to submarine cable in 2000).
The report says the region is still “coming to grips with the novelty of abundant bandwidth, enhanced coverage and cheaper tariffs”, adding that there is considerable scope for widening Internet take-up across the South Pacific and boosting mobile penetration in places like the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu.
Mobile broadband to increase economic impact
The report says while fixed and mobile voice had some indirect economic impact, much greater impact is likely to stem from mobile broadband.
Fixed broadband is a niche product in most countries in the region as the vast majority of Internet users access the Internet via mobile phone or a laptop and desktop using dongles. 3G is still quite new in the South Pacific and Fiji is the only country with commercial 4G services.
The report says this means that the real impact from mobile broadband is only beginning to happen and will only be measurable several years into the future.
Telecommunication sector driving Vanuatu’s growth
Highlighting some of the challenges that remain, the report says that in Vanuatu better coordination may have helped avoid a situation where the cost of the three microwave networks being built is likely to be more than the cost of a fibre backbone.
But it goes on to highlight the importance of the ICT sector. “In Vanuatu, the direct contribution of telecommunications growth to annual GDP growth has ranged between 7 per cent to an astounding 91 per cent; in 2011, almost all the growth in Vanuatu GDP was due to the telecommunications sector.”
About the report
The report was published by the Pacific Region Infrastructure Facility (PRIF) at last month’s meeting of the region’s ICT ministers in Tonga.
PRIF is a multi-agency coordination mechanism aimed at improving the delivery of development assistance from donors and development partners to the infrastructure sector in the Pacific region.
Initiated in 2008, PRIF members include the Asian Development Bank, it also includes the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, European Investment Bank, European Union, Japan International Cooperation Agency, New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and the World Bank Group.
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