Two transmitters have been installed on Rarotonga, with more to come. The Cook Islands is the first place in the world to install the equipment, which will eventually help provide high-speed internet everywhere in the country.
Telecom Cook Islands chief executive Jules Maher said the new technology will deliver internet speeds about three times as fast as those of current plans.
Technicians from Telecom and New Zealand-based company Kordia have been working at Telecom’s Aroa site to install the transmitters, which will improve internet speed and by linking to satellites that are only 8,000km above the earth – a quarter of the distance of Telecom’s current satellites. The shorter distance means the satellite signal can reach the earth more quickly.
The technology will also be set up on the outer islands in time for the launch of the new service O3b, which is due in September.
O3b, which Telecom signed up to in June 2010, aims to provide internet to the “other three billion” people worldwide who can’t connect to fibre optic cable. O3b will launch four satellites at the end of May, and another four in September. Eventually there are expected to be around 18-24 satellites orbiting the earth.
Telecom investigated the use of cables in 2010, but decided against it due to the high cost.
Maher said installing fibre optic cables would have cost tens of millions of dollars to set up, whereas the current project cost less than $1 million to get started.
He said Telecom customers want faster and cheaper broadband, and this alternative to fibre optic cables is an efficient solution.
“It’s far more economic and we can get it delivered quicker,” he said.
Team leader of the project, Kordia field engineer Steve Barnett, said technicians have been installing the equipment over the past few weeks, with a few more weeks to go.
“The key is the alignment of the panels to the (satellite) dish – the right alignment means you get the maximum signal from the satelite.”
The technicians have been working on the alignment between around 7.30pm and 10.30pm each night, he said.
“The sun has an effect on the dish shape, so we can’t do it during the day, and it’s too damp later (in the night).”
He said that once installed the equipment will undergo about 10 days of testing to ensure it is running smoothly.
Minister of Finance Mark Brown said the government supports Telecom’s project.
“What the government wants is high-speed connectivity at an affordable cost. Telecom took a bold step in signing up for this, and they’ve managed to do it in a very short time frame.”
Maher said Telecom will keep its existing network as a back-up for the new system.
“We’re retaining our existing capacity in case there are any glitches, but we don’t expect there to be.”