RTZ-CRA Award for Long-Term Commitment
The Winner: Cable and Wireless (Pacific Region)
Sending fares overseas from London can be laborious. But send one right round the world to Fiji; and, speeding its away by cable across the Atlantic, the United States and the Pacific, it is there in seconds. This says something for Cable & Wireless's Pacific Region which provides international communications for Fiji, Vanuatu, Tonga and the Solomon Islands.
Other Pacific islands may have links only with Australia or New Zealand, which means that calls going elsewhere must be switched in these countries at extra cost. C & W provides its clients with direct links to all the main correspondent countries - Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore and North America.
Fiji has direct circuits to 21 countries in all, Tonga to six. This helps keep down the cost of calls and is particularly important because of the large numbers of Fijians and Tongans living overseas. Tonga has a resident population of 100,000; but there are large Tongan communities in Australia, New Zealand and on the American west coast (where Tongans number 25,000).
Cable & Wireless has brought the Internet to the Pacific by providing a joint, and therefore cheaper, connection to its Hong Kong Telecom hub for Fiji, Vanuatu and Solomon Islands users. It has also brought digital communications to the University of the South Pacific by providing subsidised circuits between Fiji and the campuses in Tonga, Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands.
In Vanuatu and the Solomons, C & W is the governments' partner in providing domestic telephone services as well as international. It is committed to introducing modern communications to remote and sparsely populated areas. The Solomon Islands have 350,000 people distributed over 600,000 square kilometres. In 1987 C & W installed there the first domestic satellite system of its kind, to bring a telephone service to five remote island groups.
In Vanuatu, Cable & Wireless's associate company, Telecom Vanuatu, is installing a digital radio network to serve all the populated islands in the archipelago. Meanwhile, C & W's business customers have access to a service as modern as that in the world's commercial centres. Video conferencing was opened in Fiji in 1995. The cellular mobile phone system in Vanuatu was the first in the South Pacific.
Cyclones not infrequently hit Pacific islands. When this happens, communications are essential to emergency workers and to restoring life to normal. C &W ensures its services are more than equal to the worst cyclones. In 1994 when the island of Lata in the Solomon Islands was badly hit, the telephone exchange was almost the only building left standing. Its standby generator provided power for the local hospital.
The story of Cable & Wireless in the Pacific began in 1902 when, following the landing of the first trans- Pacific cable, it was granted a licence to operate international telecommunications in Fiji. This cable has long since been replaced and today the Anzcan cable, which runs from Australia to Canada, provides international digital communications to the Fiji islands. It is supplemented by an Intelsat standard A earth station which replaces the original standard B, one of the first in the Pacific when it was commissioned in 1976.
The Cable & Wireless businesses in the Pacific are all based on long-term commitment and reinvestment. C & W has provided 100 years service in Fiji and has been investing in the telecommunications of the three other island groups for almost 30 years. It will be some time before it receives a commercial return on its total investment in the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu.
C &W has also invested heavily in training its national staff. Many have been through the group's college, now in Coventry. Some have obtained internationally recognised degrees and become senior managers. In all C &W and its associate companies employ over 600 national staff in the Pacific Region.
C & W is heavily involved in supporting sport, the arts and community services in the Pacific: from sponsorship of Raiwaqa rugby club in a poorer part of Suva, Fiji's capital, to exchanges of school teachers between the Solomons and Dorset, England, and to Tonga's Helala festival.