In today’s world, information transmission seems to be guaranteed practically everywhere. Even in Greenland, people in cities and towns are connected to the global communication network. But when it comes to communications technology, the society is made up of two classes. This is because while the communities located on the west coast, except for those far to the north, enjoy high-speed fiber optic technology, those in the east of the island rely on satellite connections. A state of affairs that local parliamentarians would like to see changed, but to no avail.
No fiber optic cable technology for the communities of Tasiilaq and Ittoqotoormiit and the surrounding villages, but an expansion of the existing satellite technology, is the answer of Infrastructure Minister Erik Jensen to the question from parliament on how the government intends to regulate the communications situation in the east. So, at least for the time being, the situation for the approximately 3,000 inhabitants in the southeast and east of the world’s largest island remains unchanged. The explosive situation is that the communities are part of the Sermersooq district, which also includes the capital Nuuk and other larger communities on the west side of the island, all of which are connected to the fiber optic network that runs from Iceland and Canada to the west side of Greenland.
Minister Jensen argues that connecting the communities to the submarine cable that connects the island to Iceland, which would be the closest, is too expensive and refers to an estimate made by the state-owned company Tusass in 2016 (at that time still Tele-Post), which had assumed investments of up to 50 million euros. But the government is aware of the difficult situation and provider Tusass is in the process of improving the situation by improving satellite connections, Jensen further explained.
The communications situation in Greenland is not the easiest due to the island’s geographical and climatic conditions. The distances and the lack of connection infrastructure on the mainland also make for a difficult environment. While the Internet and telephony of the larger towns on the west coast are carried by undersea cables, the smaller towns there are connected to the outside world by a radio network. Both provide relatively fast connections, which will be further expanded and stabilized with the planned collaboration with OneWeb. The east will also be included in this expansion, if the plans of telecom provider Tusass have their way. This is because the capacity of the existing connection has reached its limit, leading to major stability problems. Last year, for example, the network broke down several times, leading to sometimes long interruptions. In this year, which is only a few days old, the network in the eastern municipalities of Greenland has already failed twice and had to be shut down.
But with the cooperation with Oneweb, this should get better, says Minister Jensen. According to the provider, speeds of up to 195 Mbits/s (download) and 32 Mbits/s upload should be possible once the expansion is complete. But whether this will actually reach end customers remains questionable, as the number of users is increasing. Since mobile communications also run via the satellite network and there are on average more cell phones than people in Greenland, the challenge of a stable and fast line remains.
It is not only in Greenland that the topic of “fast communications” is currently hot. In Nunavut, discussions are being held on whether and how the communities should receive a better and faster connection. Alaska, on the other hand, is already a step ahead. Here, the telecom provider GCI has already connected the communities on the Aleutian Islands to the existing fiber optic network and is now in the process of equipping every household on the islands with the new standard. Further north, plans have also been made to equip settlements further north with the standard, which is over 10x faster than Oneweb’s satellite connection, and has begun laying the cable. However, whether this is an incentive for Greenland to change course and also connect its communities to the fiber network is rather unlikely.
Dr Michael Wenger, PolarJournal
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