Earlier this month, I visited Papua New Guinea, the biggest country in the Pacific with a population of over six million and having 462,840 square km of land.
PNG is an amazing and culturally diverse place on earth. It is estimated that more than a thousand different cultural groups exist in Papua New Guinea and it has more languages than any other country, (more precisely 841 languages), representing twelve percent of the world's total, making it the most linguistically diverse place on earth.
I did get all sorts of free (mostly unsolicited) advices about poor law and order situation in Port Moresby. Of course PNG has its share of social problems and tribal feuds but I did not find it worse than many under-developed countries. However the most disturbing part I noticed is the cost of living in Port Moresby, its even higher than many European countries.
PNG economy is thriving because of mining activities especially oil, copper and gold, which constitute around 72% of the total exports of PNG. A recently started Liquefied Natural Gas project knows as PNG LNG project has given a further boost to the economy and infrastructure. The investment for the initial phase of the Project is estimated at US$15 billion and over the life of the Project, it is expected that over nine trillion cubic feet of gas will be produced and sold. The first LNG deliveries scheduled to begin in 2014.
Few years back PNG developed a Vision 2050 to rank itself among top 50 countries in UN Human Development Index by the year 2050. In the vision paper it recognizes the benefits of ICT and the need for telecommunication infrastructure as a necessary prerequisite for economic growth.
PNG is the first country to have a converged regulator and converged licensing regime among the Pacific Island Countries. National Information and Communications Technology Authority (NICTA) regulates telecommunications, broadcasting and content. NICTA is a pretty big organization with an approved strength of over 100. Its licensing regime consists of three main categories (a model close to Malaysian converged licensing): Network, Application and Content licenses. All licenses are technology and service neutral.
Recently NICTA has issued spectrum in 700 MHz to Digicel for deploying LTE in PNG. With this allocation PNG is much ahead of many of the Asian countries, who are still struggling with 3G.
After meetings with various licensees, it appeared that NICTA is the most friendly and easily accessible regulator in the region. To give an example, out of sheer ignorance I requested my first meeting with NICTA on 11 June, a public holiday in PNG but all Management of NICTA with CEO opened the office and had the meeting just to respect my request.
PNG has three major operators; Telikom PNG (Fixed and mobile operators using CDMA), Bemobile (GSM mobile operator) and Digicel PNG (GSM and 3G operator). Telikom PNG is 100% government owned, Bemobile is partially private, whereas Digicel is the only private mobile operator in PNG. As expected with the ownership structure Digicel is doing very well as compared to the other two operators, it has over 70% subscriber and around 80% market revenue share.
One may say that the market is clearly heading towards a private monopoly and competition rules needs to kick in to make sure that the market failures does not happen, but I believe nothing will happen unless and until Telikom and Bemobile are made efficient. Plan for privatization of Telikom apparently has been shelved. Another challenge in regulating competition is the grey area between NICTA and Independent Consumer and Competition Commission (ICCC).
Currently PNG has two undersea cables landing at Port Moresby and Madang but fiber transmission and backhaul within country is very poor. Much awaited Universal Access program has not kicked off yet.