Thursday 24 September 2020

Samoa achieved 100% LTE coverage but 'not even thinking' about 5G

Samoa is an island nation in the Pacific ocean. Up until 1997 it was officially called West Samoa as the Eastern part of the archipelago is still a territory attached to the United States. While Samoa uses international country code +685, American Samoa uses the American code +1 684.

Samoa was one of the first Pacific Island countries to establish a regulatory infrastructure and liberalise its telecom market. In 2006, it became the first in the region to see the market entrance of Digicel, which has since launched services in other Pacific nations. The advent of competition in the mobile market saw prices fall by around 50% and network coverage increase to more than 90% of the population.

4G LTE is developing on the back of its initial launch in 2016 by Digicel Samoa, followed by BlueSky Samoa (BlueSky Samoa launched as the re-branded Vodafone Samoa in April 2020), in early 2017. Digicel Samoa is considered to be the mobile market leader with its network covering the entire coastal areas of the country, which is home to about 95% of the population.

Similar to other countries in the Pacific Islands, Samoa’s telecoms sector has been inhibited by a lack international connectivity. While Samoa has had access to the Samoa-America-Samoa (SAS) cable established in 2009; it is now recognised that this ageing cable will not meet the future bandwidth needs of Samoa. In 2019/2020 an important telecoms development is occurring for Samoa with the launch of the Kacific-1 satellite.

This issue is being addressed with two new submarine cables becoming available during 2018 and 2019. These, combined with the Samoa National Broadband Highway (SNBH), will improve speed, reliability and reduce the high costs which have previously been associated with Internet Access for Samoa.

In the independent state of Samoa in the West, nowadays simply called Samoa, with its two main islands Upulo and Savai'i, there are 2 operators: Vodafone Samoa  and Digicel Samoa.

Both operators have 2G/GSM on 900 MHz and 3G/UMTS/HSPA+ on 900 MHz/2100 MHz. 3G/HSPA+ is marketed as a "4G" network, but real 4G/LTE started in 2017 on BlueSky using 700 MHz (B28) and 1800 MHz (B3) bands. Make sure that your phone supports 3G/UMTS on both 900 MHz and 2100 MHz frequency bands or you'll get a spotty 3G at best.

Vodafone Samoa was formerly called BlueSky. It's now mostly owned by ATH Fiji and the incumbent and bigger provider on the islands. It holds the monopoly as a landline and ADSL supplier, but faces competition from Digicel in the mobile sector. Still, it has the better coverage at slightly higher prices.

Digicel Samoa is quite visible on the islands, but still have a lower coverage at slightly cheaper prices. They started in 2006 with 2G/GSM and 2012 with 3G/HSPA+ services and in 2016 with 4G/LTE on 1800 MHz (B3) and 700 MHz (B28).

Digicel Samoa, has completed its network upgrade and covers 90% of the population with its 4G/LTE network in 2018. It has now an estimated coverage of >70% earlier this year, with a focus on Tuasivi, Salelologa, Vaiola, Fa’a’ala, and Upolu (Apia, A’Ana, Mulifanua, and Opulu).

The operator announced the completion of a major WST2.5 million (USD1 million) network upgrade cycle which means that all cell sites across the country are now 100% LTE, making the cellco the first operator to achieve this milestone in Samoa. Loop Samoa reports that upgrade works commenced in May this year and was completed August 2020.

Earlier this year, there were a lot of rumours in Samoa linking Covid-19 to 5G. The Minister of Communication and Information Technology (MCIT), Afamasaga Rico Tupai, spoke out to correct misinformation and allay public concerns about 5G technology in Samoa. He said "there is no 5G in Samoa" and "We are not even thinking about it, or even discussing it; it is not even a conversation we are having at the moment;"

5G is as safe as the previous generations of mobile technologies. You can learn more about it on the 3G4G page here.

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