Auckland, New Zealand (UPDATED 21 March 2018)- This is intended to be Part 1 in a series of articles on the changes coming to American Samoa because of Hawaiki's subsea cable.
To say that it has been a long 6 years since we first heard rumors of a new subsea cable project in our little corner of the South Pacific would be an understatement. At the time that we heard the first rumors we were skeptical. In 2011 I was working for the American Samoa Telecommunication Authority (ASTCA) as a special projects coordinator and we were reviewing a proposal from O3b Networks when the rumor was first voiced in a meeting between myself, our in-house counsel, and then CEO Aleki Sene Sr. It wasn't until a couple months later that we learned the name of the new proposed project, Hawaiki.
I was engaged in the negotiations with O3b Networks when we received the first informational packet on Hawaiki, so Mr. Sene decided to hand me the new materials as well. Again, we were skeptical of the project’s aggressive proposed build schedule; however, we knew that O3b Networks HTS satellite capacity was the only “sure thing” on the horizon, and that demand growth for capacity was going to grow exponentially. Mr. Sene tasked me with opening and maintaining communications with Hawaiki, which I did.
I initiated discussions with Hawaiki on two tracks – a single landing American Samoa versus a split cable between American Samoa and Independent Samoa. This was the start of the concept of an American Samoa and Samoa hub for submarine capacity for the nearby region, which includes Tokelau, Tuvalu, Cook Islands, Tahiti, and Tonga. Both options were actively considered until mid-2013 when a misunderstanding with Independent Samoa’s government occurred making pursuing a two-Samoa version of the Hawaiki landing unlikely and by the end of 2014 we were pursuing the single landing in American Samoa option exclusively.
In parallel to the discussions with Hawaiki, ASTCA was constructing the ambitious Fiber To The Home (FTTH) project, the Broadband Linking the American Samoa Territory (BLAST), and this project was well underway in 2015 when the O3b Networks HTS capacity was brought online in American Samoa, greatly improving Internet speeds in the territory, especially for the customers who had already been switched to the local access fiber. This added an urgency to the need for the Hawaiki capacity to be ready in the near to mid future term so that customer demand would not be held back by high middle mile transport costs over the trans-Pacific link. In 2016 and 2017, nearly all of the territory’s residents had been converted to using the fiber optic network resulting in an estimated latent and pent up demand for an additional 800 Mbps of capacity, a demand that is currently not being served at full speed. As of today, both of the territory’s ISPs use a mix of caching and QoS priorities to manage and distribute their available capacity until the Hawaiki capacity is introduced in mid-2018.
To put things into perspective – O3b Networks dropped the price of trans-Pacific transit for Internet by 60%-70%, and Hawaiki offered the opportunity to drop those transit costs by a further 90%-95%, bringing the cost of IP transit down to the point of being comparable to the cost per Mbps in the rural parts of the United States. For American Samoa’s residents and economy, this massive drop in cost of the long haul transit could be a major benefit when it is coupled with the territory’s low wages, American English speaking working age population, and high levels of unemployment.
On my very last day on the job at ASTCA, in March 2016, I received a congratulatory message from Hawaiki noting that the contracts had been executed. A very perfect way to end my six year career at ASTCA.
As of today, more than half of the cable has been installed, with the routes between Oregon and Hawaii, and Australia and New Zealand being complete. The vessel installing the South Pacific segment, TE Subcom's cable layer ship, Responder, has left New Zealand national waters and is working on installing the segment toward American Samoa and Hawaii. Hawaiki has indicated that landing and completion operations in American Samoa should commence next month in April.