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FEATURE STORY

Papua New Guinea: Connecting People in One of the Most Isolated Places on Earth

September 11, 2012

Introduction of competition among telecommunication providers have helped over two million people in Papua New Guinea and the Pacific have access to mobile phones.

STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • People in Papua New Guinea are among the most isolated in the world.
  • The World Bank Group, together with other development partners, is helping introduce mobile competition to promote expansion of services with lower prices.
  • With more mobile operators, two million more people in Papua New Guinea and the Pacific Islands now have access to mobile phones.

Sept 11, Port Moresby - It’s another busy day at the Koki market, here in the nation’s capital of Port Moresby. A betel nut seller reaches into his pocket and pulls out his mobile phone to make an urgent call.

“Send me some more supplies, I’m almost out. Send me one more bag,” he says before ending his call.

Five years ago this betel nut seller would have had to travel at least half an hour to get more supplies for his stall but now it takes only a phone call.

Over two million more people in PNG and the Pacific now have mobile phones

Since the introduction of mobile competition in October 2007, people in Papua New Guinea are able to own affordable mobile handsets and make cheaper calls for both business and personal use. In a country with rugged mountains and isolated islands, the mobile revolution has been embraced by ordinary Papua New Guineans. Over two million more people in PNG and the Pacific now have mobile phones compared to a decade ago.

“Before, whenever there was a death in the village, people had to travel long distances to the nearest government station or town to notify relatives in other provinces. But now we don’t have to because everyone has mobile phones and we can just call from the village,” said Mary, a housewife in Port Moresby who uses her mobile phone to get in touch with people in her village.

Open Quotes

Before, whenever there was a death in the village, people had to travel long distances to the nearest government station or town to notify relatives in other provinces. But now we don’t have to because everyone has mobile phones and we can just call from the village Close Quotes

Mary
a housewife in Port Moresby

Opening competition to help expand mobile coverage

The World Bank has been helping to facilitate improved access to mobile phones and a stronger policy and regulatory framework for ICT all over the Pacific region. Working with other development partners, coupled with increased investment by the private sector, has reduced the cost of services and dramatically increased access.

Before there was competition among mobile phone operators, the only operator was Telikom PNG. Its subsidiary, Bemobile, had 160,000 mobile phone subscribers mostly based in the capital, Port Moresby. There are now three mobile phone operators, Digicel PNG, Bemobile & Citiphone, resulting in an increase of mobile phone subscribers to 1,800,000 subscribers and price for calls have dropped by 60 percent.

In 2011, 26 percent of people in PNG had access to mobile phones. Before there was competition among telecom providers, only 4 percent of the population had access to either a fixed line or a mobile phone.

While these figures are still low compared to other countries in the region, it is a big difference with the time when there was only one operator. Back then, the handsets were too expensive and call rates were too high and just owning one was considered a luxury.

Competition among mobile operators has brought another dimension to the mobile revolution, such as mobile banking, sending money and purchasing utilities such as electricity using mobile phones, all of which are making life easier for everyday Papua New Guineans.