East Timor: Government launches tender for fibre optic subsea cable to Australia

The Timorese Government on Thursday announced the opening of an international public tender for the purchase and installation of a fibre optic submarine cable from East Timor to northern Australia.

“The draft deliberation was presented by the Vice Prime Minister, José Maria dos Reis,” explained the executive, without giving details.

The tender comes after the Government announced in November the approval of a digital connection by fibre optic submarine cable to the north of Australia, namely to the cities of Darwin and Port Hedland.

José Reis had told Lusa, in October, that this was the Government’s preferred option, with the project representing an investment of between 40 and 60 million dollars (between 34 million and 51 million euros).

In terms of technical issues, at the time there were three connection options: to Suai, on the south coast, and then by land to Dili, by sea directly to Dili or else with two connection posts, one in Suai and another in Dili, he explained at the time.

“The option to Suai and then to Dili is about 875 kilometres, but if you go directly to Dili it’s about 600,” he said.

The Government did not reveal details of the option chosen.

Regarding the type of investment, Reis explained that the estimated cost of “between US$40 million and US$60 million [34 million and 51 million euros]” can be funded 100% by the Timorese government, based on the transfer of a license from Australia, or else in a mixed model, with 80% of the cost from East Timor and the rest from Australia.

Depending on the final options, the project could be concluded in September 2022 or, alternatively, in mid 2023.

The connection is based on a proposal submitted by Vocus Group, Australia’s fourth largest telecommunications company, which was in East Timor in March 2019 to present alternatives and scenarios to the current Government.

According to the Australian company, operators in East Timor spend $12 million (€10.1 million) per year on buying access to the international network via satellite, with that amount then multiplied in costs to customers, who have slow and unstable speeds.

The Vocus network includes, among others, a cable that connects the Australian city of Perth to Singapore and another that connects that one to Port Heldand, in northwest Australia, and then continues to Darwin, passing next to the border in the Timor Sea.

From that last one, the North Western Cable System (NWCS), it would be possible to make a connection by submarine cable, of 250 kilometres, to the south of East Timor.