Tristan da Cunha Connects To The World Via Satellite

Located some 6,000 miles from the United Kingdom and 1,750 miles from Cape Town, South Africa (whence the islanders receive their sea-snail mail through the vagaries of ship schedules), Tristan da Cunha has been deemed by the Guinness Book of World Records as “the remotest inhabited island in the world.”

Some 130 years after the British government claimed the island of Tristan da Cunha as part of its empire, the South Atlantic territory officially is being welcomed into the 21st century, too, thanks to a new satellite connection to the rest of the world. The U.K.’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s (FCO) Telecommunications Network, a hybrid system that connect 233 sites in 140 countries via a mix of terrestrially-based fiber and satellite links, now serves Tristan da Cunha.

Through connection to the network, the island’s inhabitants — almost 270 who make a living mainly by farming, fishing, island administration and sales of stamps, coins, handicrafts and souvenirs — are finding much-improved Internet access and a reduction in their dependence on costly, low-level communications.

Mike Hentley, the island’s administrator, shared with Satellite Business Solutions Managing Editor Julie Samuel and Satellite News News Editor J.J. McCoy the benefits brought by satellite capabilities to the inhabitants and local governments.

PROBLEM: Connecting To The World At Affordable Cost.

Hentley recalls what communicating with the rest of the world meant to islanders before the network reached out to Tristan da Cunha.

“Our previous communications links were of limited capacity and so expensive that many of the islanders here could not afford to use them on a regular basis,” he says. “The bandwidth was 64 kilobits per second, so if somebody tried to send a photograph it would just block the whole system.”

A partnership between Loral Skynet and Global Crossing extended the FCO’s communications network to the four-island archipelago. This new system should provide the local government and the island’s inhabitants with a whole new world of communications possibilities that previously were technologically and financially out of reach.

SOLUTION: Communications Via Satellite.

Within a few months of FCO’s decision to install the satellite connection, surveyors travelled to Tristan da Cunha, followed by installers who set up a 3.4-meter dish to get the connection up and running.

“The connection to the [network] is very good news for us,” says Hentley. “The new system has a much bigger bandwidth, 256 kilobits per second,” and “each government department will now have its own direct e-mail and telephone links [enabling] more effective and efficient communications with suppliers and customers, both internal and external.”

The island’s first Internet café, with three computers connected to the Internet and three satellite phones, already is proving popular for its affordable services. The cost of a simple phone call was cut by more than 30 times. “Because the islanders are able to use the FCO’s open link system, they can now place a phone call paying for just the system breakout charge.”

Plans are in the works for a Wi-Fi connection to be installed, for the school to develop distance learning programs, and the local hospital has established a project with support from IBM’s Global Wellbeing Service Director and colleagues to provide to provide Tristan da Cunha’s medical officer with online consultation services to assist with local patient care.


Mike Hentley
Island Administrator, Tristan da Cunha Government

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