Mobile Telephone Service in Ukarumpa!

Our last field term in Ukarumpa, there was no mobile phone service at all in Ukarumpa, except for bulky and expensive hand-held satellite phones. Now, there is service from two different companies! One of those (B-Mobile) has excellent signal strength in Ukarumpa but high airtime prices. The other (Digicel) has better coverage most places in PNG and better prices, but weak signal strength in Ukarumpa. It is interesting to watch the culture changes that happen when technology like this comes to where it wasn’t available, before. The introduction of competition for telephone service has been resisted by the existing telephone company (Telikom and B-Mobile) and some people in government. Therefore, the newer and larger mobile phone network (Digicel) has been blocked from interconnecting with the existing telephone company, so far. Because of this political state of affairs, it takes two telephones to be able to talk to anyone with a telephone in the country. Both networks connect internationally, but there is a significant price difference ($1.97/minute for Telikom vs. $0.36/minute for Digicel). Fortunately, accepting inbound calls is free on both networks. I hope that Telikom wakes up, lowers prices, and makes an interconnect agreement with Digicel and Green Communications (the other licensed mobile phone service provider) before everyone cancels their B-Mobile and Telikom service and just goes with Digicel because of better service and lower prices.

Having these additional telephone services has significantly increased our communication reliability from Ukarumpa. In the last week or so, the “land line” service of Telikom from Ukarumpa to the outside world has gone out of service twice for about a day at a time, but mobile phone service was available at those times. (Telikom has had significant difficulties maintaining service due to theft and vandalism of their lines and equipment.)

The expansion of mobile telephone service in Papua New Guinea is a valuable additional communication option for many people, including Bible translators.

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