Thursday 23 June 2022

Fiji is Looking to Build Upon its Success of 4G and Fibre

Fiji is a small country, slightly smaller size than that of New Jeresy, USA or Wales, UK and has less than a million people. With well-developed infrastructure, Fiji has become a hub for the Pacific, hosting the secretariat for the Pacific Islands Forum and the main campus of the University of the South Pacific. In addition, Fiji is a center for Pacific tourism, and Nadi International Airport is by far the busiest airport in a Pacific island country.

Fiji has a relatively sophisticated communications infrastructure with the highest mobile and internet penetration in the Pacific Islands. It is the leading market to watch in terms of both LTE and 5G development in this region.

LTE, LTE-A, and fibre technologies have received the most investment by the Fijian mobile operators, which include Digicel Fiji, Vodafone Fiji, and Telecom Fiji. Notably, LTE now accounts for the largest share of connections in the mobile segment. Concentrating on the more highly populated areas, the operators are preparing for the next growth area of high-speed data. They also have 5G in mind, and are preparing their networks to be 5G-ready, anticipating an easier migration to the technology based on the relatively high LTE penetration rate. The sale of Digicel to Telstra also passed a major hurdle when the Fijian Competition and Consumer Commission approved the transaction in March 2022.

Fiji presents a challenging geographic environment for infrastructure developments due to its population being spread across more than 100 islands. However, the majority of Fijians live on the two main islands of Viti Levu and Vanua Levu.

In July 2018, the two islands were linked by the Savusavu submarine cable system, which provides a more secure link in times of emergency weather events such as the regular tropical cyclones that often cause massive destruction to the area, including destroying essential infrastructure such as electricity and telecommunications equipment.

In Fiji, the Covid-19 pandemic has devastated the economy that is otherwise reliant on the hospitality and tourism sectors. The country faced strict lockdowns and restrictions on cross-border travel due to the onset of the Delta variant in April 2021. Although the economy is in recovery, these sectors still face an even more challenging business environment.

As mentioned earlier, there are three mobile operators on the islands of Fiji: Vodafone Fiji, Digicel Fiji and Telcom Fiji.

Vodafone is the incumbent operator with the most customers and a slightly better coverage. Digicel has better prices and a still good coverage on the main islands. MVNO Inkk Mobile resells Vodafone at lower rates.

2G is on 900 MHz. 3G on 2100 MHz with Vodafone and 900 MHz with Digitel. 4G/LTE started in 2013 on both operators using 800 MHz (band 20) and 1800 MHz (band 3) and is given out for prepaid.

In 2016 Telecom Fiji, public owner of the landline phone network, switched on its 4G/LTE network. It's branded as Connect 4G+ and uses the 700 MHz frequency (band 28). It's coverage is in major towns on Viti Levu island only. As they market their prepaid plans to residential and business customers as well as students only, it's not (yet) an option for travellers.

Vodafone used to be the only provider on Fiji before Digicel arrived on the scene in 2008. Still, it has the better coverage throughout the archipelago. Its 2G covers all islands up to EDGE, sometimes patchy on the remote islands. 3G is now in the most areas of the main islands. Vodafone claims a 3G coverage of 95% of Fijians, and 4G coverage extends to almost every major city and town in both Viti Levu and Vanua Levu. 

Vodafone Fiji has also become the primary internet provider for Fiji and has over 1 million active connections on the network as customers have multiple data and voice connections. In 2019 the Smartphone Penetration stands at 78% in the Fiji market and this is above the global benchmark of 75%.

The total number of base stations will increased from the 390 to more than 600 base stations in 2019 around the country. Almost all existing and new base stations are providing 4G+ coverage. This made  Vodafone by far the largest 4G+ mobile network in Fiji covering 96% of the Fijian population.

When Digicel arrived in Fiji in 2008, it shook the scene and many customers moved here from Vodafone. It has more aggressive prices, but a weaker coverage. 2G and 3G on 900 MHz are on the main islands only. 4G/LTE has started in 2014 and was extended in 2016 to Nasinu, Ba and Labasa, building on its existing 4G coverage which serves the greater Suva area, as well as Nadi including Denarau Island and the wider Lautoka area. 4G licenses on 800 and 1800 MHz (B20, B3) are used and 4G is open for prepaid.

In 2020 Digicel Fiji unveiled a major network upgrade initiative in the country to improve the lot of customers on the island nation. Digicel Fiji chief executive officer Farid Mohammed confirmed the FJD30 million (USD13.9 million) network upgrade to increase LTE coverage and develop its ‘Digital Lifestyle’ partnership with customers across Fiji. Mohammed said that in phase one of the project, the cellco had spent more than FJD14 million since late 2019 to add capacity to the LTE network, while also upgrading most of its cell sites in main urban centres to 4.5G LTE-Advanced Pro technology (Pre-5G) in Suva, Nausori, Nadi and Lautoka. He further stated Digicel has increased their LTE coverage in maritime areas and Vanua Levu, partly to meet a 40% rise in data traffic demand during the COVID-19 lockdown. Going forward, the remaining funds will be spent to further improve LTE coverage across Fiji with the ultimate aim of upgrading ‘almost all’ of the remaining sites to LTE. What this means is that they will provide LTE/4G on the remotest areas of Fiji like the Lau Group, Koro Island, Taveuni and Vanua Levu.

In October 2021, Australian MNO Telstra said that it has agreed to buy the Pacific operations of Digicel Group in a $1.6 billion deal largely funded by the Australian government and seen as a way to contain China's rising influence in the region. Digicel Pacific would continue to be run as a separate business within Telstra’s ‘International division’, while ‘maintaining separate P&L and IT systems’. Digicel Pacific has around 2.5 million subscriptions on its books across Papua New Guinea(PNG), Nauru, Samoa, Tonga, Fiji and Vanuatu.

In 2016 Telecom Fiji, public owner of the landline phone network, switched on its 4G/LTE network. It's branded as Connect 4G+ and uses the 700 MHz frequency (band 28). It's coverage is in major towns on Viti Levu island only. As they market their prepaid plans to residential and business customers as well as students only.

Telecom Fiji is currently going through a large transformation to deliver a fully digital experience to customers and offer new, customized services. Oracle Communications Policy Management running on Oracle Private Cloud Appliance infrastructure will support these efforts by enabling Telecom to provide flexible service plan and pricing options to customers. 

Oracle Policy management tells Telecom’s network how to treat the customer’s data flows across its 4G and fixed broadband network based on the specifics of their service plan. This ensures an enhanced and consistent experience for Telecom’s customers, regardless of the network they are on, and lays the foundation for a seamless transition to 5G.

Telecom Fiji has also revealed that as part of its ongoing rollout of fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) technology more than 5,000 homes in Suva, Nadi and Lautoka now have access to its ultra-fast fibre broadband services. Chief executive Charles Goundar said that his company is investing FJD180 million (USD87.1 million) over the next five years and accelerating deployment in the face of rising demand – compounded by the need for people to work from home during the pandemic.

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