At Independence there were hardly any telephones outside Port Moresby and communications with the provinces often took the form of radio links. Twenty years later finds Telikom, one of PNG’s most up-to-date corporations, with a customer base of 45,000 subscribers, a full range of services and products, a dedicated and professional work-force and an agenda for future development that could provide a model for other public corporations.
The telecommunications system in Papua New Guinea is 100% automatic, with international links to most countries in the world. While the main use of the system is people calling others in PN G itself on the ordinary direct exchange lines, telephone users can, if they wish, avail themselves of wake-up calls, international direct dialling, fax services, ring back price information on long distance calls, call control, call waiting, call forwarding, enquiry calls, a “ring me back when you are free” system, abbreviated dialling and an operator service. Detailed call information in the form of itemised billing is about to become standard.
The underlying technology which makes all of this possible is a network of microwave radio links with repeaters on mountain tops, now backed up by an alternative satellite transmission system, operating through an earth station at Gerehu in Port Moresby. For subscribers beyond the reach of the exchanges, a high frequency service exists which they access by a radio call to an operator who connects them to the network. Digital technology is gradually replacing all of the analogue circuits, resulting in clearer reception and an increased number of possible services.
The success of Telikom is as much due to human resources as it is to technology and the deployment of people is a matter of fine judgement on the part of management, for Telikom employees are both valuable and expensive.
2,000 people work for Telikom and the cost of their services includes not only their salaries, but also the operating costs of maintaining the expanding network in a country with few roads. Engineers have to fly to their work-places and sleep in hotels if they stay overnight. Many visits to transmitters require the use of helicopters. Human resource managers have to facilitate all of this activity.
The actual establishment of the transponders and relay sites has to be the result of negotiations with the customary land-owners – a whole area of activity which is a world away from the technological image which first springs to mind when one considers modern communication systems.
Special problems exist in Papua New Guinea in relation to the establishment of a telecommunications service. These range from outrageously high demands for compensation from the owners of mountain top land to excessive use of telephones by persons who may or may not be able to pay the bill. The first of these problems, now somewhat mitigated by the existence of satellite systems which do not require repeater stations, has sometimes been solved by offering the customary landowners free telephone services. The second problem does result in rather a large number of disconnections.
Telikom is an example of modern corporate management thinking being applied to a situation many would consider to be more complex than equivalent telecommunications situations in other parts of the world. Its rather interesting that the ideas do transfer.
In the opinion of its General Manager, Mr Stan Basiou, the way forward is by association with simil ar corporations overseas, to benefit from their technology, their research and their management skills. At the same time as it delivers the service to the subscribers, Telikom can, he feels lead the way in modern corporate management thinking in Papua New Guinea.