Remote Tristan da Cunha goes online

Global Crossing today announced it has extended the reach of the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) network to the world’s most remote island community, Tristan da Cunha. Extension of the FCO Telecommunications Network (FTN) to the United Kingdom Overseas Territory of Tristan da Cunha in the south Atlantic brings modern communications to the community of 275, most of whom live by farming, the processing of lobster or crayfish, the administration of their island and a growing trade in philatelic services and tourism.

Services to Tristan are being rolled out under Global Crossing’s contract to manage the FCO’s global communications infrastructure in 140 countries. The contract, which runs to 2010, now generates more than US$40 million a year and an estimated US$446 million over the life of the contract.

The provision of robust connections via the FTN network will greatly improve communications to the outside world for the island’s administration and the community at large. Providing communications to Tristan has never been easy. The early settlers relied on passing ships to exchange messages with friends and family overseas. In 1938, members of the visiting Norwegian Scientific Expedition installed their own radio operator and two years later, the establishment of a Royal Naval signals station during the Second World War (HMS Atlantic Isle) led to the introduction of the first permanent radio station and post office.

Today, mail services via Cape Town in South Africa are subject to the schedule of passing fishing vessels and the vagaries of the weather. Tristan is situated 6,000 miles from the UK and 1,750 miles from southern Africa. Post can be delayed for months and calls using either high-frequency links with Cape Town Radio or by satellite telephone are prohibitively expensive. Calls by radiophone are 1.50 pounds Sterling a minute and 1.83 pounds a minute by satphone.

The island’s Administrator, Mike Hentley, said connection to the FCO network will greatly reduce the island’s dependence on costly, low-level communications and provide much improved Internet access. By being able to access the FTN, the Tristan da Cunha Government will be able to make calls and exchange e-mail via London at significantly reduced UK domestic and overseas rates. Currently, five e-mail systems are in use on the island serving the Administrator for his official communications with the Governor in St. Helena, the FCO in London and other systems being used by the Post & Telecommunications Department to send and receive emails on behalf of Islanders, the doctor, the crayfish processing factory manager and the Natural Resources Department.


“Even with limited use of existing facilities, Tristan’s telecommunications costs make up more than 12 percent of the island’s annual budget. There’s no doubt being connected to the FTN will greatly reduce the island’s isolation and budget expenditure,” said Mr. Hentley.

Phil Metcalf, managing director of Global Crossing UK, said: “Although the FCO network was essentially completed in 2004, we continue to extend the benefits of a globally managed IP VPN to the remotest corners of the world, overcoming challenges posed by location, technology and logistics. Our solution will allow Tristan’s administration to share the benefits enjoyed by other posts on the network and make a dramatic difference to the day-to-day life of Islanders.”

Global Crossing in collaboration with Loral Skynet, a global satellite operator with expertise in integrating space and ground-based IP services, has connected Tristan to the FTN via Very Small Aperture Terminal (VSAT). Global Crossing operates satellite earth stations in Canberra, Australia, and Hampshire in the UK to which 153 remote locations are connected worldwide, including other island nations like Tonga, Fiji, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands.

In all, the FTN connects 233 sites in 140 countries, providing secure, high-speed voice, data and messaging services to more than 16,000 users. Sites on the managed IP VPN include 153 embassies and high commissions in capital cities, 10 missions to international organisations and conferences such as the UN, the EU and NATO, and 70 consulates or deputy high commissions outside capital cities.

The installation of the VSAT equipment used on Tristan posed unusual logistical challenges. The 3.7-metre VSAT dish had to be broken down and freighted to Cape Town. From there, the equipment and an installation engineer boarded a fishing vessel for the 1,750-mile trip to Tristan. In the meantime, the Islanders prepared a concrete plinth as the ship’s schedule allowed only seven days to install and commission the VSAT equipment and the private branch exchange in the Administrator’s office. The VSAT link will support 12 lines running at 256 Kbps, compared with the island’s current satphone links of 64 Kbps.