St. Helena: No Cable, no Broadband Internet, no Wireless

SthelenaMy friends regularly mock me for checking network coverage for places I plan to go on vacation to and that I would feel uncomfortable the moment I ran out of coverage. But it's probably true. So you will understand my shock and disbelief that there is a UK overseas territory in the South Atlantic that has no wireless network (not even GSM). Even worse, landline calls and Internet connectivity to anyone but the 4000 inhabitants is prohibitively expensive.

I'm talking of St. Helena, a small island somewhere in the middle between South America and Africa. Once an important stronghold for shipping it is now an island pretty much apart from the rest of the planet. An old satellite is used for voice and Internet connectivity with prices between 29 and 119 pounds for data buckets between 300 MB and 3GB. No this is not over wireless, these are data buckets for DSL lines. On top, the speed over the Satellite for all inhabitants is limited to 10 MBit/s. That makes the 25 MBit/s I have on my DSL line at home that I only share with the household and not 4000 other people shine in a totally new light. You can imagine how "busy hour" on that network looks like…

The British government wants to build an airport on St. Helena to stimulate tourism. But really, who wants to go there when Internet connectivity is limited at best and your iPhone can't communicate with the rest of the world? Ten years ago, this might still have worked. Today only those suffering from communication overload might consider it. I doubt one can fill planes that way.

But there's a solution, and it's called SAex, a new submarine cable about to be laid between South America and Africa, just passing by St. Helena at a distance of about 50km. Currently, there are no plans to connect the island which I would find quite a shame. But perhaps there's a chance with initiatives such as "Connect St. Helena" creating awareness of this once in lifetime opportunity.

In the meantime the press has caught wind of the opportunity as well, such as here and here. The Facebook page of the initiative is here. An airport is a nice thing to have, but in the 21st century, connectivity to the rest of the world is not just planes and ships anymore…

3 thoughts on “St. Helena: No Cable, no Broadband Internet, no Wireless”

  1. In my opinion, the absence of network coverage can be a strength of the Island, on top of memories of Napoleon!

    There are not many places without coverage on the earth today. Escaping from our busy world and our addiction from the Internet can be healthy, from time to time, a kind of web fastening!

  2. let’s try some picocells with dedicated sim and local routing to avoid HLR and so on…

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