Palau National Communications Corporation : Bridging the Digital Divide

Liam PyeLucy Pilgrim
Liam Pye - Project Manager Lucy Pilgrim - Senior Editor
PNCC girls in Palauan costumes on phones at Rock Islands
Highlights
  • Palau National Communications Corporation (PNCC) provides essential telecoms services that profoundly impact both the daily lives of individuals and the overall economy in Palau.
  • “It’s not just about advanced technology; it’s about bringing people together, connecting our remote islands, and increasing resilience for the entire nation,” says Simon Fraser, CEO, Palau National Communications Corporation.
  • The company is also introducing a hybrid green power backup system that provides reliable mobile data services to remote islands in preparation for natural disasters.

As the Republic of Palau’s only full-service telecommunications provider, Palau National Communications Corporation is on a mission to deliver state-of-the-art connectivity across the islands. Simon Fraser, CEO, tells us how the business is embarking on a technological transformation to show that small island nations can lead on a global stage.

BRIDGING THE DIGITAL DIVIDE

The Republic of Palau (Palau) is one of the world’s top diving destinations, with vibrant seas, abundant marine life, pristine beaches, and welcoming people. 

What is lesser known about the archipelago, however, is its up-and-coming telecommunications (telecoms) industry that is experiencing a major transformation.  

In recent decades, the region has witnessed remarkable advancements in digital connectivity that have facilitated a robust telecoms infrastructure, becoming a cornerstone of the country’s development and progress.  

At the forefront of this evolution, Palau National Communications Corporation (PNCC) provides essential telecoms services that profoundly impact both the daily lives of individuals and the overall economy. 

Indeed, the industry is full of innovations such as 5G and the Open Radio Access Network (O-RAN) movement, which promise to revolutionise connectivity with faster speeds, lower latency, and more flexible network management.  

“These technologies are critical as they enable us to offer cutting-edge solutions that drive socioeconomic growth,” introduces Simon Fraser, CEO of PNCC.  

In contrast, the country’s telecoms sector also faces significant challenges, such as bridging the investment gap for the necessary infrastructure that ensures Palau can fully benefit from the latest advancements.  

This gap is a global industry-wide issue, primarily stemming from the lack of substantial capital needed to build and upgrade infrastructure to handle increased data traffic, expand coverage, and improve connection reliability in remote and sparsely populated areas.  

“At PNCC, we are committed to overcoming these challenges through strategic partnerships and leveraging grant funding opportunities with Palau’s international partners, ensuring our community is not left behind in the digital revolution,” assures Fraser.

WORLD-CLASS SOLUTIONS

Established in 1982 as the country’s first telecoms provider, PNCC is proud to be Palau’s national carrier for local and international telecoms services and was founded with the mission to modernise and expand connectivity.  

However, the company has always been more than just a service provider, positioned as the bridge joining the archipelago to the rest of the world.  

“Our unwavering commitment is to reach every corner of the nation, delivering world-class connectivity from Kayangel in the north to Sonsorol and Hatohobei in the south.”  

The company began over 40 years ago with just 200 telephone customers and has now grown to over 40,000 subscriptions, offering a full array of basic and advanced telecoms services.  

These include mobile data, voice, short message service (SMS), fixed-line broadband, digital television, and specialised business solutions.  

PNCC’s dedicated team of 112 employees consists of 105 Palauans and seven expatriates who work tirelessly to ensure top-notch services for its customers.  

The company operates across three business premises in Palau’s urban core, namely a main retail store, the corporate headquarters, and the International Telecommunications Monitoring Centre (ITMC), which houses a 13-metre satellite earth station.  

PNCC owns and operates Palau’s largest 3G/4G mobile network, which today has approximately 98 percent population coverage, and is delivered via almost 60 cell sites throughout the main archipelago. A landmark project is underway with satellite services partner, Intelsat, to extend mobile network coverage to the two remote southwest island states of Hatohobei and Sonsorol.  

“Through continuous innovation and determination, we are dedicated to providing reliable and affordable telecoms services, ensuring that every resident of Palau stays connected to the world,” Fraser states.   

MODERNISING MOBILE NETWORKS

Palau will be the first country in Oceania to disaggregate and modernise its mobile network using a 5G standalone core and following O-RAN principles. 

The company launched the project in June 2023 in collaboration with the United States Trade and Development Agency (USTDA), which provided a technical assistance grant to fund the design of a new mobile telecoms network based on 5G O-RAN.  

This is an innovative approach to building Radio Access Networks (RAN) that uses standardised, open interfaces between network components to allow diverse vendors’ equipment to work simultaneously together. This contrasts with traditional RAN where, typically, the hardware and software are tightly integrated and proprietary is granted to a single vendor.  

There are a whole host of benefits to an O-RAN system, such as flexibility and interoperability, as the network allows PNCC to combine components from different vendors, fostering innovation and reducing dependency on individual suppliers.  

Meanwhile, by leveraging commercial off-the-shelf hardware and open interfaces between network components, the O-RAN architecture can reduce costs and make it more feasible to deploy highly advanced networks in smaller markets such as Palau.  

It also boasts enhanced network performance, enabling more tailored and efficient configurations and improving overall performance and service quality.  

Additionally, O-RAN will continue to create meaningful employment opportunities for Palauan engineers, developers, and technicians. Therefore, by internally sourcing all aspects of network management, the company can retain and attract skilled professionals. 

“By pioneering the first commercial 5G standalone O-RAN network in Oceania, PNCC is not only enhancing its service offerings but also setting a benchmark for innovation and technological advancement in the region, underscoring our commitment to driving progress,” Fraser expresses.  

“It’s not just about advanced technology; it’s about bringing people together, connecting our remote islands, and increasing resilience for the entire nation”

Simon Fraser, CEO, Palau National Communications Corporation

POWERFUL PARTNERSHIPS

One of PNCC’s most groundbreaking initiatives is its partnership with Lynk Global in the world’s first commercial launch of direct-to-device (D2D) connectivity, introduced in June 2023.  

This service aims to achieve universal coverage across the republic, including the two remote southwest islands.  

“The D2D service employs satellite ‘cell towers in the sky’ that connect directly to standard mobile phones, with no special devices required,” Fraser informs.  

The collaborative service began with SMS last year and will further expand to include voice calls and internet access by 2026. Moreover, the Lynk Global roll-out will also serve as a cost-effective backup system during emergency outages.  

“It’s not just about advanced technology; it’s about bringing people together, connecting our remote islands, and increasing resilience for the entire nation.” 

This sentiment is further demonstrated by the company’s provision of high-speed internet to Palau’s schools.  

In 2023, the company joined hands with Palau’s Ministry of Education and Ministry of Health and Human Services to build a high-speed fibre optic private network to connect all public schools in Palau, the first in the Pacific Islands.  

In the near future, Palau will have fast fibre optic connections across the entire country via PNCC’s Reconnect 3 Grant Programme funded by the US Rural Utilities Service (RUS), however, schools remain the primary focus in the shorter term.  

“We believe that the health and education of our youth is the most important aspect of investing in our country’s future,” comments Fraser.  

What’s more, the company is currently introducing a hybrid green power backup system that provides reliable mobile data services to remote islands in preparation for natural disasters. The model will use solar, wind, and generator energy solutions to maintain access to internet and phone networks.   

Elsewhere, PNCC is also set to launch an Electronic Voucher Distribution (EVD) system with technology partner Ogloba, as part of its digital evolution. This new system will streamline the process of purchasing prepaid access to PNCC’s mobile and fixed-line networks while introducing a variety of new digital products. The system aims to enhance online services, ensuring a green, secure, and convenient customer experience.  

Customers can expect easier access to prepaid mobile and internet top-up products, followed by the introduction of electronic SIM (eSIM) cards and other digital products including vouchers and gift cards for leading global online businesses.

COLLECTIVE CONNECTIVITY

Due to Palau’s remote location and small market size, PNCC’s business partners are critical to ensuring smooth operations. Moreover, as a public corporation, the company has a formal purchasing policy in place to ensure the best value from its vendors.  

“The key to PNCC’s success lies in fostering strong collaborations with partners who share common goals within the telecoms industry.  

“By aligning with like-minded organisations and leading suppliers, we can leverage collective expertise, resources, and innovation to stay competitive and drive growth,” reveals Fraser.  

Suppliers are also key in helping the company stay abreast of global trends and remain relevant, thereby achieving long-term success in a rapidly evolving telecoms landscape. Synergistic relationships also provide ample training opportunities for PNCC’s staff.  

The upskilling of its workforce is of paramount importance to the company as its people are at the core of everything it does. Thus, by internally sourcing all aspects of network management and investing in its staff, the business creates a thriving environment where Palauan talent can flourish.  

This not only benefits PNCC but also contributes to the broader goal of sustainable development and technological advancement in Palau and the wider region.  

“Our ambitious plans for the coming year are not just about technological advancements, but about empowering our community, fostering innovation, and ensuring that Palau remains seamlessly connected to the world,” concludes Fraser.

USTDA Mobile Network Modernization signing ceremony (Quad partners) 807px
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By Liam Pye Project Manager
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Liam Pye is a Project Manager for Outlook Publishing. Liam is responsible for showcasing corporate stories in our digital B2B magazines and Digital Platforms, and sourcing collaborations with Business Leaders, Brands, and C-suite Executives to feature in future editions. Liam is actively seeking opportunities to collaborate. Reach out to Liam to discover how you and your business could be our next cover story.
By Lucy Pilgrim Senior Editor
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Lucy Pilgrim is an in-house writer for APAC Outlook Magazine, where she is responsible for interviewing corporate executives and crafting original features for the magazine, corporate brochures, and the digital platform.