Colonia, Yap-- Some days and evenings the internet connection in Yap offers up surprises. The remote island is still tied to the satellite, a slow, tedious connection that frustrates even the most patient users. But a few days ago this reporter’s connection was fast and reliable all day. After a work day filled with emails and downloads, uploads and social media, I decided to see if I could get Netflix on my laptop, a feat that is normally only available on my tablet, if at all. And, yes, there it was. The movie selection played all the way through with only minor buffering.
What was the reason for this unexpected and thrilling happening? Was it a fluke? The new fiber optic cable is not scheduled to be fully operational until June 28th. But could it be that it’s now being tested? Will Yap’s residents wake up on June 29th and have immediate and reliable connections? Hope springs eternal. A quick question sent to Sebastian Tamagken, Yap’s Chief of Media and Protocol and the local government eye on the Spur Fiber Optical Cable Project, revealed the Cable Landing Station located near the old airport in Lamer, Rull municipality was indeed in test phase between Yap and Guam for the prior two weeks. But that connection is only one of many that need to be secured before it’s ready for prime time and, according to Gerald Tourgee, the technical project manager, it’s important for us all to manage our expectations in the meantime. There’s still more work to be done after that date. Next is hooking up the telecom companies that want to provide competitive services to the state, a requirement of the World Bank grant that is funding the cable installation. So far, FSMTC is the only service provider that is hooking into the main line and they have not yet provided a written timeline other than that target date of June 28th set by Tourgee. We understand,” Tamagken said, “they are working hard to pull their link on the Yap State Public Service Corporation power poles from the CLS to their office in Colonia and eventually to their Madaadeq Tower site above the town. They’ve mounted the link-line on the poles, but they have not connected it to the CLS just yet. We are hopeful things will be completed a few days before the target date of June 28, 2018.”
The next step will be insuring that all of the links up and down the system including wires, routers and any other equipment between the main line and homes and businesses, are current and can be hooked into the main system. “That is the responsibility of FSMTC and general manager Peter Garamfel is on top of it,” added Tamagken.
In the meantime, that speedy connection was a fluke, Tourgee assured me. However, after a wait of several years, Yap’s residents are eagerly anticipating the flipping of the switch that will bring high speed internet to the island even if it takes more time to reach their computers due to out-of-date routers that need to be replaced or new wires that need to be strung up to replace old ones. Rest assured. It’s on its way.
[UPDATE. June 28, 2018. On June 28, 2018, Yap entered the 21st century when the island officially transitioned from satellite internet connectivity to the newly installed fiber optic cable.]
Now, Phase Two of the project will be planned and funding sought to insure that the capacity of the new cable is fully realized. Which means the aging copper wiring must be switched out for optical fiber. It won’t happen overnight, but other countries and islands with fiber optic cable are still using copper wiring and getting good results.
What advantage does optical fiber have over copper? Simply put, much higher bandwidth. Copper wires send electrical current, while fiber optic technology sends pulses of light generated by light emitting diode or laser along optical fibers. In addition, the insulation on copper wiring degrades, joints disintegrate, and water in the conduit shorts out the connection. Optical fiber is not metal-based and will not corrode or rust.
In response to pricing, which is one of the top questions asked by residents, Peter Garamfel, vice president, FSM Telecom Yap, replied, “All ADSL packages will see an increase in bandwidth. The cost for each ADSL package will stay the same but capacity will increase. So in reality the cost has been reduced.”
Nonetheless, when and if competitors enter the FSM market, prices will most likely be impacted. If other telecom price wars in other markets around the world are any indication, that means prices will be lower or more benefits will be offered to entice customers to change to a new service provider. Open access was a primary requirement of the World Bank’s multi-million dollar grant that brought fiber optic cable to Yap in the first place.
In the meantime, the 2018 Micro Games that will take place in Yap from July 15 to 27 have been the catalyst for getting the cable laid and transitioned from satellite reception by the end of June. Microwaves have been set up at the Matson Yap Sports Complex and the athletes’ villages that link to the antennae on Madaadeq, the hill overlooking Colonia. Reception at those sites will be very good, said Garamfel. Residents, he added, will see “some improvement after June 28th, but until Phase Two is completed in the future, full capacity will not be realized. Nonetheless, many residents say that anything will be an improvement based on what they have had up until now.