Network deployment costs are high in PNG due to the relatively low subscriber base, the impervious terrain, and the high proportion of the population living in rural areas. As a result, fixed telecom infrastructure is almost inexistent outside urban centres, leaving most of the population unserviced. With fixed teledensity having seen little change over the past two decades, progress in telecommunications has come primarily from mobile networks, where accessibility has expanded from less than 3% population coverage in 2006 to over 80% by early 2016.

This impressive growth was triggered by the start of mobile competition in 2007. When it entered the market, competing mobile operator Digicel brought mobile services to previously unserviced areas and at the same time slashed prices. The result was a substantial increase in mobile penetration – from 1.6% in 2006 to 49% by early 2016. This remains low by international standards, and though there remains considerable room for growth this could be stymied by the latent difficulties within the market, including the high cost of deploying infrastructure, the relatively low income base among potential subscribers, and the geographical dispersal of the population. As a result of these conditions PNG remains one of the least affordable mobile markets in the Pacific.

Despite the opening of the market to competition, internet access is expensive in PNG and far beyond the means of most of the population. Throughout much of the country, internet access is simply unavailable. Mobile coverage into 2016 is extensive, though most rural areas still have only 2G services.

Nevertheless, mobile broadband is proving far more successful than fixed-line broadband, and both Telikom and Digicel are planning to provide LTE services by the end of 2016. The number of mobile broadband users is expected to continue to grow strongly as these operators expand their 3G and LTE networks in the coming years.

To overcome the country’s communication shortcomings, the government is deploying a National Transmission Network, which is expected to boost bandwidth and encourage market competition. It is managed by the state-owned PNG DataCo, which acts as wholesaler.

Given the underdeveloped telecom services, PNG’s telecom market has enormous growth potential. Despite the challenges, the country offers many investment opportunities. An increasing number of Papuans are embracing the digital age, particularly the younger generation, and mobile phones in particular are becoming a more important source of social interaction.

For more information see – Papua New Guinea - Telecoms, Mobile and Broadband - Statistics and Analyses