US, Japan to fund 5G networks in Pacific

The Pacific Island states are coming into focus as one of the key battle zones in the US-China tech war.

In the latest development, the US, Japan and Australia are planning to fund 5G networks in the region in order to head off Huawei and the Chinese government, Japan's Kyodo news agency reports.

The initial recipient of this largesse will be Digicel Pacific, the South Pacific operator recently acquired by Telstra with Australian government cash.


Phone wars: Digicel will be one of the first operators to benefit from a deal with the US and Japan to support 5G technology in Pacific island states like Fiji, pictured. (Source: Rafael Ben-Ari / Alamy Stock Photo)

Digicel, the largest Pacific islands telco, runs fixed and mobile networks in Papua New Guinea and mobile operations in Fiji, Nauru, Samoa and other countries.

The Kyodo report says Japanese firms such as NEC, Fujtisu, NTT DoCoMo and Rakuten will offer 5G equipment and expertise – including Open RAN - to Digicel.

They will likely have financial backing from the export credit agency, the Japan Bank for International Cooperation and the big three commercial banks.

Cable ties

The US, Japan and Australia also committed this week to funding a new cable in the western Pacific linking the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), Nauru and Kiribati.

The cable, which will replace satellite internet, will connect to the existing HANTRU-1 cable at Pohnpei (FSM), which runs from Guam to the Kwajalein Atoll 3,500 km away.

An earlier attempt to build the subsea link was suspended in June because of the involvement of HMN Technologies, the former Huawei marine unit.

Want to know more? Sign up to get our dedicated newsletters direct to your inbox

The three governments did not say how much they would invest in the new cable, or how, although they said they would coordinate with the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank.

"This six-country collaboration highlights our commitment to work together on critical telecommunications infrastructure and contribute to reliable and secure internet for the region," they said in a joint statement.

Early this year the three governments also brokered the construction of a short bridging cable from Palau to the SEA-US system.