The challenges faced by internet service providers (ISPs) on small Pacific Islands were highlighted at Global INET 2012, the Internet Society’s 20th annual forum in April.
Emani Fakaotimanava-Lui, who attended the forum in Geneva, Switzerland, as a representative of the Pacific Islands Internet Society Chapter (PICISOC), spoke about the high costs, limited bandwidth and latency issues associated with satellite connections.
Latency is the time it takes for an electronic signal, such as an email message, to travel to its destination. With the geostationary satellites used by Internet Niue and many other Pacific island ISPs, it takes at least a quarter of a second for the signal to travel 35,000 km to the satellite and back to the ground. In practice, satellite latency can be as much as two seconds.
This creates big problems for applications requiring real-time user input, such as remote surgery and online games. It frustrates videoconferencing and voice-over-internet calling and makes it difficult to use applications like Skype.
Emani said he has high hopes for the O3B initiative that internet founder Vint Cerf highlighted in Geneva as a potential answer to the Pacific’s satellite woes. OB3 is a new satellite-based broadband service that the promoters expect to launch in late 2013.
“‘O3B’ stands for “[The] Other 3 Billion”, and refers to people living in places where broadband internet is unlikely to become available in the foreseeable future. It is financially backed by heavy hitters including SES World Skies, Google, the HSBC Bank and the Development Bank of Southern Africa.”
He says the plan is to launch a constellation of eight satellites that will orbit much closer to the earth than regular communications satellites. This will potentially provide remote places like Niue with internet and telco links operating at speeds similar to fibre. Latency will hopefully be a thing of the past.
Internet service providers in the Cook Islands, Pakistan and Nigeria have signed up to the O3B constellation and Per Darnell, president of The IUSN Foundation that funds Internet Niue, says the foundation is now investigating whether it is a workable option for Niue.
Cultural issues such as localised content and support for multiple languages and scripts featured at Global INET 2012. There are several initiatives underway around the globe for bringing local languages into the IT age, including a crowd-sourcing project for developing internet and computer terminology for Arabic. Emani says he hopes to do the same for Vagahau Niue.
He also says it is important that Pacific nations have a clear voice in international forums like INET.
“We can learn a lot from other countries and cultures by sharing ideas and experiences. While the Pacific Islands are pretty much unique, other countries may be able to offer us potential solutions if they know about the challenges we face. This means that Pacific stories and people need to be presented in forums like this.”
Emani’s attendance at Global INET 2012 was funded by the Internet Society.