Mobile coverage still a challenge for Vanuatu

A survey done in 2020 has shown that many islands in Vanuatu still have no access to vital telecommunications services.

The Regulator for the Telecommunications and Radiocommunication Broadcasting Regulator, Brian Winji, says the survey shows that achieving network coverage nationally is still a huge challenge for Vanuatu.

The telecommunications and broadcasting regulator says it is working with internet and mobile phone service providers so all Ni Vanuatu can access education, health, agriculture, tourism, trade, business and banking services online.

Mr Winji says people living on many islands cannot access either of the country’s two-telecommunication service providers, Digicel Vanuatu Limited or Vodafone.

“In 2014, we awarded five-year contracts to Vodafone, Digicel and Telsat to increase their network coverage through the Government’s Universal Access Policy Fund,” Mr Winji said.

He says in the first phase of that contract, the companies worked in 22 sites including Torres, Vanua Lava, Santo, Maewo, Ambae, Malekula, Pentecost, Epi, Tanna and Aniwa islands.

Mr Winji says the work done under these contracts has been “a huge milestone” for Vanuatu because the three companies have undertaken “good work at their own expense”.

But, he says with the contracts completed, the regulator did a survey which found many people were still unhappy about having poor or no access to Telsat, Digiel and Vodafone services.

The Chief Executive Officer for Vodafone Vanuatu Limited, Barlen Lutchmoodoo, says the fact that Vanuatu has so many islands with hills and creeks makes it a hard for his company to achieve 100 per cent coverage.

“I think the Telecommunications Radiocommunications and Broadcasting Regulator must work with us, with support funds, if we want 100 per cent [internet] coverage in Vanuatu,” Mr Lutchmoodoo says.

The President of the northern Torba Provincial Government Council, Edmond Harry Sovan, says there is no network coverage in Ureparapara, Merelava, West Gaua, Mota and Merig islands; or in parts of the Torres islands in his province.

“People living in these areas find it really hard to communicate with people in other islands in Torba Province,” Mr Sovan says.

Also in the north, the Sanma Provincial Government says some parts of Santo island are also still struggling to access Digicel and Vodafone network coverages.

Sanma Provincial Government President, Malmal Langi Tavui, says poor coverage areas in his province include Big Bay Bush, Big Bay Inland, West and North West Santo and South Santo.

Mr Tavui says having access to reliable phone and internet services is critically important to these populations particularly during cyclones and tsunamis.

The telecommunications and broadcasting regulator says its survey has identified over 60 new sites that need improved mobile and internet coverage.

“We have put up a plan to work on areas that have limited coverage and areas that have no coverage at all,” he said.

Vodafone Vanuatu Limited has submitted its tender application to the regulator to work on the new sites.

The Vodaphone CEO says the company is now waiting for the regulator to support their submission to carry out the work.

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