Boom or Bust?

The economic benefits of a fiber-optic connection to the outside world cannot be overstated. But it’s got to be seen as a labour of love. The benefits to be derived from the operation of the cable itself might never be great. If it’s not managed properly, the cost of failure could be high indeed. That said, the knock-on benefits to the community are numerous.

Call center services for European customers, online education, interactive tourism resources (video feed from the Nangol, anyone?), live video lectures from universities overseas, online consultations by medical specialists, offshore financial transaction processing… the list goes on and on. All of this becomes possible if we improve our basic infrastructure.

[This week’s Communications column for the Vanuatu Independent.]

We need fiber, and we need it soon.

No, I’m not talking about changing the nation’s diet. I’m talking about fiber-optic cable. Made of very long strands of glass fiber, this kind of cable has the unique ability to allow light to turn corners. This means that we can shoot tiny laser pulses into one end of it and have them emerge intact from the other end, even if it’s thousands of kilometers away.

The result? Fast, very high-capacity communications become possible. In laboratory experiments, researchers have achieved rates of up to 14 trillion bits of data per second. Current commercial implementations don’t go nearly that fast, but even a single thread of fiber a few millimeters wide can carry billions of bits every second. Just a few strands would be enough to increase Vanuatu’s total available bandwidth to a large multiple of its current capacity.

So what’s the catch? Why haven’t we invested in a fiber connection yet? Fiji has it, and so does New Caledonia. Why not Vanuatu?

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