A £3 MILLION investment from FIG (over three years) will improve current broadband provision for Falklands residents. It will mean broadband data quotas for Bronze packages and above (67% of subscribers) will double as well as a 33-44% data increase for Starter and Lite packages. Customer prices will increase by 10% for bronze and above. The changes will result in a 50% improvement in contention ratio (the number of users sharing the same bit of bandwidth at any given time) and will help to relieve congestion at peak times. Line speeds will be reviewed once it is understood how consumers are using the increased data allowance.
It is hoped this will be in place by Christmas this year.
This week the Falkland Islands Government and Sure announced the investment saying: “This is the first step towards delivering commitments made in The Islands Plan to improve delivery and work with our partners to further advance service quality, increase capacity and value for money in our telecommunications service."
The decision, approved by ExCo on September 25, 2019, is said to follow "an extensive review of internet provision.”
At a press conference on Wednesday Director of Development and Commercial Services Iain Robertson gave background to the decision saying the Exclusive Licence granted in 2017 to Sure by FIG contained agreed satellite capacity increases (and associated broadband data and speed increases) from 2017 to 2019 and those have been implemented.
Following this, Sure and FIG agreed to work together on the delivery “of more substantial increases in international capacity and data allowances beyond July 2018.”
As a result, it was agreed that Sure and FIG would run a joint exercise in 2018 to test whether the current provider, or alternative providers, could offer increased capacity at a similar price level
They would also conduct a more strategic review in 2019 to assess longer-term provision of international capacity to the Islands. This would look at different technological (e.g. lower orbit satellites) and commercial solutions.
In August 2018, a joint ‘Request for Information’ was issued to the international telecommunications market to assess the commercial prospects of increasing broadband capacity on a phased basis. FIG engaged telecommunications consultants, LS Telcom, to provide advice during this process. Proposals were received from satellite vendors Intelsat, SES/03B and Avanti. Presentations with these vendors took place with FIG officials and Sure directors in October 2018.
Mr Robertson explained that Intelsat offered an extension to the existing service but would provide more capacity through the same satellite. Intelsat has also launched a C-Band spot beam primarily targeted at the Falklands in anticipation of providing an ongoing service.
The SES/O3B service proposal was based on the use of medium earth orbit satellites. The service would require the use of two new steerable dishes to connect with satellites as they appear over the horizon. Steerable dishes are complex to maintain as they are constantly on the move. Significant capital investment in the existing earth station would be required to facilitate the service, he explained.
Also O3B uses Ka-Band frequencies which are more susceptible to rain fade. Dishes on the ground need to be larger to compensate for this effect adding more cost. However, it was noted that as technology improves, “such a solution could be considered in the next five years, as with increasing launches of new constellations it could be possible to connect with multiple satellites simultaneously increasing throughput.”
Avanti’s Geo Stationary satellites have four steerable spot beams which can be directed within a regional area. Avanti’s offer involved dedicating a whole satellite beam to the Falkland Islands and they "were intent on selling the entire capacity rather than ramping up on a phased basis."
In tandem with the joint exercise, FIG embarked on a strategic review of telecommunications, aided by work from the Technology Development Group.
FIG had discussions with two interested sub-sea cable providers from the UK and Chile. Two commercial propositions were received for a cable; one routed from the UK (via Brazil) and the other routed via Chile. However, Mr Robertson explained that FIG and Sure felt that having undertaken a comprehensive engagement exercise from both operators the cost of providing a sub-sea cable on a 20-year contract was found to be unaffordable, “as the costs to the Falkland Islands amounted to hundreds of millions of pounds sterling. There was no feasible economic model that could support such an investment and FIG does not retain sufficient financial resources to facilitate such a project.”
Also specialist advisors engaged by the Government confirmed that the broadband capacity brought by a sub-sea cable would not be required in the Falkland Islands for another fifteen years, based on population size and demand modelling.
On September 25, 2019 after a range of options were presented it was decided to go for doubling the broadband data quotas for Bronze packages and above, as well as a 33-44% data increase for Starter and Lite packages costing FIG £1m per annum over a three year period. This option would see the international satellite capacity increase by 97%, double data quotas for 67% of subscribers (Bronze packages and above) and significantly increase data quotas for Starter and Lite packages, explained Mr Robertson.
The Starter data quota would increase from 3,000MB to 4,000MB and Lite from 9,000MB to 13,000MB. The contention ratio (the number of users sharing the same bandwidth at any one time) would improve by 50% for everyone.
He said the changes would greatly improve the user experience by helping relieve congestion at peak periods and ensure more people can achieve the speeds available within their packages. FIG is also supporting Sure with the investment required to make necessary upgrades to the network which will also see improvements in network resilience.
To maximise the benefits that this increased satellite capacity will bring, customer prices will increase by 10% for those on Bronze packages and above.
It was explained that the increase “is necessary in order to deliver the required improvement to the overall quality of the service and is the first time that prices have risen since 2007.”
Mr Robertson emphasised that under the terms of the licence Sure was not obligated to expand data capacity beyond the current levels and the agreement reached provided for improvements to broadband services that wouldn’t have otherwise been possible.
Chair of the Assembly MLA Roger Spink said: “We know how strongly people feel about broadband provision in the Falkland Islands; this is why we made a commitment in The Islands Plan to investigate all of the options for improving service quality, increased capacity, coverage and value for money. We hope that by making this significant, recurring investment in the service that we will be able to see a much improved user experience for residents and local businesses in the short term as we continue to pursue our longer term aim of continued improvement in technology and telecommunications across the islands.”
Sure Falkland Islands CEO Justin McPhee said: “Sure has already started the extensive upgrade of our on-island systems required to support the doubling of broadband capacity, and we will continue to invest in local infrastructure in line with our Licence commitments. We plan to launch the enhanced broadband packages in December 2019 and we will update customers by early November on the details of the new Broadband plans, including prices and data allowances.”
Nighttime free usage window is set to continue.