Aitutaki youngsters brings the Manatua undersea fibre cable ashore in Cook Islands. TOKERAU JIM 20010717
The future of the Cook Islands internet looks reliable, fast and cheap. But it can feel far off. Slow internet frustration is still very much alive and well. So where are we and where are we headed?
A world full of new competitors
Until recently, the Cook Islands was under a
Vodafone internet monopoly; it changed in 2019 from the Telecommunications Act
opening the internet business to anyone that wanted in.
Four new internet service providers (ISPs)
have joined and with no cap on the number of ISPs, more are expected.
ISPs act as middlemen between internet
suppliers and consumers. An ISP buys large quantities of data from places like
the Avaroa Cable or O3B (‘Other 3 Billion’ satellite service) and distributes
it to customers.
An ISP can offer packages with fixed data or
limited bandwidth, often measured in megabits per second Mbps, which is the
download rate of the internet connection.
To put internet speed in perspective YouTube
suggests 5 Mbps to watch a video that’s HD 1080p, and 20 Mbps for a 4K video.
The chair of Competition and Regulatory
Authority, Bernard Hill, says prices should get cheaper with the new
Hill thinks overall Vodafone is a good company
that has “probably been expensive in the past”.
New competitor, chief executive officer of Kuk
i Net, William Framhein says he’s here to offer customers a choice.
Kuk i Net gets its data from Kacific Broadband
Satellites and provides two products. One is a VSAT, which is at home internet
via a satellite dish and has a set-up cost of $1800. The other service is Wi-Fi
hotspots. Framhein says both options offer competitive prices.
A criticism of satellite internet is there are
latency issues – the time it takes for data to be transferred between its
original source and destination.
This can make video conferences and gaming
“The latency issue is only a problem if you
want it to be a problem for you,” says Framhein.
“It’s just making that connection from your
place to the server, once that connection is made, it’s super, duper fast.”
Kuk i Net chief executive officer William Framhein with a Kuk i Net satellite dish. 20082418/20082419
Around the world, low orbit satellites are
being deployed in an attempt to create low latency, fast internet in places
that traditionally have a poor internet connection.
One of the best-known companies doing this is
Elon Musk’s Starlink.
The company is in beta testing and expects the
people taking the trial to have internet speeds of 50 to 150 mbps and low
The testing costs users close to $700 to set
up and $140 for the service. According to StarLink’s website, it’s expecting to
hit Cook Islands shores in 2022.
Framhein says when it comes to the possibility
of new low orbit competitors, he’s “not too concerned”.
“They’ll just be another satellite provider.”
Avaroa Cable Limited is the Pacific’s newest
wholesale fiber optic operator providing managed wholesale connectivity
services to and between the Cook Islands.
Avaroa Cable chief executive officer Dr Ranulf
Scarbrough says when it comes to internet speed, the Manatua Cable, a submarine
communications cable linking Samoa, Niue, the Cook Islands, and French
Polynesia, is capable of doing 10 million Mbps.
Scarbrough says the cable has allowed
Rarotonga and Aitutaki to have access to powerful tools available elsewhere in
“The internet and what the internet can do for
you evolves very rapidly and we see that all over the world.
“What are the wonderful things that the
internet can deliver in the future, who can say, but we know through the cable
we will be able to participate and I think that’s really key… it’s a ticket to
Although the cable is in and has been
operating since July, the fast internet is not always seen and diagnosing slow
internet is not always straightforward.
Holding the Manatoa cable shortly after it was brought ashore on Aitutaki are (from left), Avaroa Cable Ltd chief executive Dr Ranulf Scarbrough, Avaroa Cable Ltd board chair Tatiana Burn, Prime Minister Mark Brown, former Prime Minister Henry Puna and Aitutaki Mayor Tekura Bishop. 19121625.
Scarbrough says it could be down to a number
of factors from Wi-Fi routers, the computer performance, plans with capped
download speeds, and copper wires.
The copper-based internet connection system in
the Cook Islands has limited capacity for speed.
Telecommunications regulator Hill says moving
from the cable capable of 10 million Mbps to copper wire is like a very large
water pipe flowing quickly with water moving into a very small one.
Copper wires were originally placed for the
purpose of telephones. This is not unique to the Cook Islands and common around
Internet speed with copper is determined by
the distance of the internet exchange; the longer the copper wire is the slower
the internet is.
But improvements can be made to copper. Here
it has meant an ADSL (Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line) system is in place
which has a theoretical internet speed of 24 Mbps.
Scarbrough says further improvements can be
made but it gets to a point where fibre makes the most sense.
He says it’s like someone buying a Mini and
wants a really fast car. So the person needs to buy a bigger engine, a better
carburettor, a new exhaust, “and then you go, actually I might as well just buy
a faster car – it’s a bit like that”.
“We’re pretty much getting to the point where
cooper can’t cope with the speeds anymore so optical fibre is a great solution.
“It’s very easy to make it happen, the only
thing you need is money. It is quite an expensive activity.”
Vodafone Cook Islands is undertaking the
project and its chief executive officer Phillip Henderson says “Fibre to the
Premises” will connect fibre to all premises on Rarotonga and Aitutaki.
“This will enable customers on these islands
to have the same service capability as ultra-fast broadband in New Zealand.”
East and West flow
The direction the cables data flows can cause
latency issues and at the moment it’s flowing the wrong way.
Data from the cable is transmitted eastward to
an internet junction point in Los Angeles.
Avaroa Cable’s Scarbrough says: “If you think
about it, if you want to talk to someone in the US, going through the US is
great. But if you want to talk to someone in Auckland your traffic has to go
all the way to the US and back to Auckland. You can end up with a little bit of
The Manatua Cable is a shared venture with
French Polynesia, Niue, Samoa and the Cook Islands; it was done as a way to
share the expensive burden of the cable.
“So that cable then takes us as far as Tahiti
and Samoa but of course people don’t just want to communicate with people from
Tahiti and Samoa.”
Scarbrough says the most relevant internet
junction points are in Los Angeles and Sydney and to get to those points work
needs to be done with other cable operators.
“What we hope to do is open up a route instead
of eastward, take us westward to Sydney.”
Scarbrough thinks a route will be opening west
and is optimistic for the future of internet in the Cook Islands.