Development of Telecommunications
Fiji's first telephones were introduced late last century (1898) by the Colonial Sugar Refining Company.
In 1904, a line was built between Suva and Levuka. It followed an over-head pole route from Suva to Lodoni and then by submarine cable to Levuka. The line was originally installed as a telephone circuit and later converted to carry hand speed telegraph by morse. The submarine cable eventually became faulty in 1938 and was abandoned.
By 1909 a number of people began to realise the usefulness of telephones. A few lines erected by private individuals were already in use in Suva. It was evident a telephone exchange would serve a good purpose. A circular letter was issued by the Government inviting interested persons to become subscribers. The initial response was poor. However, it wasn't long before public response prompted the authorities to install a telephone system. It went into service in 1910. A year later, private circuits were absorbed into the new system.
Around this time, an overhead pole line was built across Viti Levu. The line followed a route that extended from Lautoka to Ba and from there across the island to Nausori and on to Suva. The line was damaged regularly by falling trees and branches and required continuous patrolling and repairs. It was finally abandoned in 1937 with the opening of the southern coastal road from Suva to Lautoka.
An attempt to establish a direct cross island pole route was made by the American Army during the Second World War. This line was also unsatisfactory owing to major maintenance problems.
The first lines on Vanua Levu and Taveuni were built in the mid 1920s. The magneto system used during this period consisted of long rural lines serving up to 10 subscribers per section.
In some cases as many as 15 subscribers were grouped together. Some 120 stations operated this way.
The quality standards of rural lines were generally rudimentary. They consisted mainly of galvanized iron fencing wire suspended from coconut trees. Some lines were very long. These lines have all been replaced by aerial and underground cables. Communities they once served now have modern wireless communication systems
From these early pole routes a few cables were slowly extended in Suva and Levuka. By 1929 there were 350 subscribers in Suva and about 100 in Levuka. There were no public telephone systems in some of the towns around the main island of Viti Levu.
From time to time a number of private telephone networks were built by individuals and provincial authorities. This resulted in many telephones being connected across individual networks. Ringing from one telephone to another as well as speech was only faintly heard. The problem, however, was confined to isolated networks not connected to public exchanges.
The next phase in telephone development followed the worldwide economic recession of the early 1930's. A 100 line switchboard was installed at Lautoka in 1934 and two overhead lines linked it to a new exchange at Ba. In 1937, a further two overhead lines ran from Lautoka to Nadi where a 50 line exchange went into service. During this period, construction of the telephone pole route between Suva, Navua, Sigatoka and Nadi closely followed construction of the Suva-Lautoka road which was underway at the time.
One pair of lines was completed in 1939. A second pair was added to this route a year later and a three channel carrier telephone system was brought into service using one of the pairs to provide additional circuits needed by the armed forces.
The early types of exchange equipment contained no complicated circuits or sophisticated devices. The methods of signaling employed were simple but effective.
The subscribers telephone instruments were also very basic and easy to repair.
In 1911, during the very early days of communication, Fiji had the distinction of leading in the field of radio in the South Pacific by having the first commercial station south of the Equator. However, due to lack of funds and the use of obsolete equipment, the reputation and services of Suva Radio soon declined.
The next phase of development occurred after World War II when the government acquired station sites and buildings at two Suva suburbs. They had been established and used throughout the war for military communications. The two stations formed the basis of the Department's high frequency radio telephone and telegraph services. They were developed using a great deal of war surplus equipment which the Department was fortunate to acquire.
After the war it became obvious that the old Suva Manual Exchange could no longer meet the needs of a growing town. In 1956, the heavily overloaded manual board was replaced with a Stronger type automatic Step-By-Step exchange. Additional capacity was provided by a smaller exchange located at Laucala Bay. The developments heralded the arrival in Fiji of automatic telephony.
Manual exchanges in other towns were upgraded and enlarged. This led to the development of the trunk service to towns, some of which had been isolated. Their only contact with the rest of the country was via wireless telegraph circuits carrying hand speed morse, and a low grade high frequency radio telephone service.
In the late 1950’s the steady growth of telephone and telegraph traffic began causing serious network congestion problems on virtually all trunk routes throughout the country. It was apparent that a major long term plan was required to put an end to piece-meal development.
But there were obvious problems. Apart from the difficulty of obtaining capital, revenue generated by the network could not adequately support the anticipated outlay. Furthermore, the engineering capacity and technical staff of the Department could not hope to deal with the enormous amount of work involved. The problems and challenges were not insurmountable and in 1958 the first development plan was prepared.
This development plan provided for the progressive conversion of all large manual exchanges on Viti Levu to automatic systems. A similar program was also considered for Vanua Levu and other centers.
One of the first decisions was the choice of exchange systems. In support of a policy favoring standardisation, the authorities opted for the L M Ericsson Crossbar telephone exchange and multichannel radio link systems for trunk circuits.
The opening of Nadi Airport in the mid 50’s and its communications requirements prompted a sharp increase in the demand for more trunk channels between Suva and Lautoka. As an interim measure low capacity VHF radio systems were installed to meet the demand.
In 1959, a 5 channel VHF radio system provided telephone and telegraph services between Suva and Labasa.
1960 saw the introduction of teleprinters, initially for the Department's use.
Expansion of the VHF radio system took another step forward with the installation of a 9-channel Suva-Lautoka and Lautoka-Namaka link in 1961. In 1962, a second 9-channel VHF link went into service on the Suva-Lautoka route.
Fiji was extremely fortunate to have access to the Sydney-Auckland-Suva-Vancouver Compac submarine telephone cable which was commissioned in 1962.
A weather information service was started in Suva the same year. In 1963 a manual telex exchange was opened with four subscribers and the Suva-Lautoka microwave link was brought into service at the end of 1965.
During 1966, four L M Ericsson crossbar automatic telephone exchanges were opened at Lautoka, Namaka, Nadi and Levuka, together with two crossbar automatic trunk exchanges at Suva and Lautoka. These were integrated with the existing automatic telephone exchanges in Suva, Laucala Bay and Samabula to form a subscriber trunk dialing (STD) network covering Viti Levu and Ovalau.
1966 marked the introduction of STD and of crossbar switching equipment into the Fiji telephone network. In the same year an automatic crossbar telex exchange was opened in Suva. A 12 channel carrier using cable equipment was installed on the Nadi-Lautoka route to provide additional trunk circuits between these two exchanges.
In 1968 two more automatic crossbar exchanges replaced manual systems at Ba and Sigatoka while a microwave link was erected between Ba and South Ridge to carry trunk traffic.
In 1978, Nabouwalu joined the telephone network following the installation there of a 30 line manual switchboard..
Crossbar telephone exchanges of 1200 and 600 line capacities were put into service at Samabula and Lami respectively during 1971 while the capacity of the Suva Central 4400 line Step-By-Step exchange was increased by an additional 1000 lines. A 20 line Step-By-Step automatic exchange was installed at the P&T radio station at Koro-0 to provide telephone services to subscribers at Nadarivatu This service used two trunk circuits connected to Suva Manual Boards.
The government station at Vunisea in Kadavu received a 20 line manual switchboard in 1972. During the same year Samabula Exchange had its capacity increased to 3000 lines. The Namaka rural type crossbar exchange was replaced the same year with a similar size urban 600 line exchange to eliminate traffic congestion.
In 1973 a 100 line manual exchange went into service at Deuba while Rakiraki joined the ‘automatic network’ using the ex-Namaka 400 rural type crossbar exchange.
In 1974, the Navua exchange was converted to an automatic crossbar system and Nasinu's 650 line Step-By-Step equipment (ex-Samabula) was put into service. During the same year, extensions were carried out at the Lami, Suva and Laucala Bay automatic exchanges.
Capacity extensions followed at Lautoka and Deuba while the Vunisea 20 line switchboard was replaced with a 50 - line system in 1975.
The following year larger capacity manual exchanges were in service at Diloi (Tukavesi) and Nabouwalu.
1977 saw two new manual exchanges serving customers at Vunidawa and Lakeba. During the same year Labasa and Deuba were converted to automatic systems while Ba's exchange capacity was extended to 1400 lines.
Nausori went ‘automatic’ in 1978 with the opening of a 1600 line crossbar exchange. Extensions to Samabula, Navua and Levuka exchanges were also carried out the same year..
A number of telephone exchanges including the Suva Trunk exchange were extended during the five years to 1983 to provide new telephone services to waiting applicants.
Some of the major projects for this period were the opening of the 3000 line crossbar exchange at Nasinu and the replacement of the 240 line crossbar telex exchange with a 756 line electronic telex exchange during 1980, the replacement in 1981 of the 1000 line rural type crossbar exchange at Nadi by a 2000 line urban type crossbar system to improve telephone service to the subscribers and the opening of two new manual exchanges at Nayavu and Lomaloma in 1982.
In 1983, a 600 line automatic crossbar exchange went into service at Tavua. Seaqaqa received a manual system the same year. . Extension of automatic exchanges at Suva, Lami and Nausori were carried out during the year increasing their capacities by 2000, 1000 and 1000 lines respectively.
In 1984, 100 line manual exchanges went into service at Qarani and Rabi and the Lautoka trunk exchange was replaced by a much higher traffic-carrying trunk exchange of the type installed in Suva.
Up to July 1984 the types of public telephone exchanges making up the Fiji telephone network consisted of the following:
EXCHANGE TYPE No. in OPERATION TOTAL CAPACITY
LM Ericsson's X-Bar 16 33,600 Lines
Strowger (Step-by-Step) 3 5,020 Lines
Manual Boards 13 1,890 Lines
There were three manual assistance centers serving the whole of Fiji. They served each of the three telecommunication service divisions i.e. Southern, Western and Northern and provided operator services such as Assistance, Directory Enquiries, Trunk Booking, Overseas Calls, etc.
Outgoing international calls in late 80’s were handled by 14 cordless switchboards located at the Suva Central exchange building. These have since been replaced by a computerised OPS (Operator Positions Sub) system.
Incoming international calls were dialed direct into the network by overseas operators or subscribers.
By the end of July 1984, there were 28,570 working exchange lines and 50,699 telephones connected to the network.
Telecommunications services for the outer islands and remote areas, where telephone exchanges did not exist at the time were served by radio telephone stations.
The growth of telecommunications investment throughout the world since World War II has been phenomenal. In 1945 there were 41 million telephones worldwide. By 1984 there were some 600 million, an increase of more than 1300 percent. During the same period telephones in Fiji increased from 2158 to 46,583, an increase of over 2000 percent. This was nearly twice the world growth rate.
The distribution of telecommunication services worldwide is far from even. Of the 600 million telephones lines in use all over the world, 75% are concentrated in nine countries. The remainder are distributed unevenly throughout the rest of the world. Thus, there are major disparities in penetration of telephones between developed and developing regions. For example, among developed countries, the United States, Switzerland, Canada and New Zealand all have more than 50 telephones per 100 population, while other developed nations have from 10 to 50 per 100 population. However, most third world nations have less than five telephones per 100 population.
The table below is taken from a recent publication on the subject showing Telephone Lines Densities as for January 1, 1982 for some of the South Pacific countries and near neighbours.
TELEPHONE DENSITIES - 1993
Country Phones per
Cook Islands 25.0
Marshall Islands 5.0
Western Samoa 3.0
Mariana Islands 2.6
Solomon Islands 1.5
Papua New Guinea 1.1
1985 was the year of major changes in national telecommunications technology in Fiji. After a worldwide tendering exercise the L M Ericsson-manufactured digital AXE type exchange systems were chosen to spearhead network growth over the next decade.
Installation of the first AXE 103 type exchange began at Lautoka in July 1985 and it went into service early the following year..
In February 1985, a 100 line manual exchange was put into service at Nasau, Koro while the Colonial War Memorial Hospital manual telephone switchboard system was replaced with an automatic system.
The major thrust of development in the Trunking Systems was the replacement and relocation of the Lautoka-Namaka microwave link repeater station following destruction of the original station by cyclones earlier in the year.
Another major development was that of a microwave link from Namaka to Sigatoka on the Coral Coast to provide an alternative route to Suva. Work on this link commenced in 1985 and was completed in early 1986.
A second portable microwave link was purchased to enable the Department to provide emergency back up in the event of a link failure.
Additional trunk circuits were provided for Ba-Lautoka, Ba-Suva, Lautoka-Suva and Nausori-Suva respectively. At the end of 1985 the network had a total of 1,487.operational voice grade trunk circuits.
The highlight of 1986 was the opening of the country's first electronic exchange at Lautoka. This heralded a new era for telecommunications in Fiji.
International Subscriber Dialing (ISD) was introduced into the network together with other enhanced telephone facilities. Installation of a similar type AXE system commenced at Labasa in 1986 and was put into service in 1987.
The following crossbar exchanges were also expanded to cater for growth and expansion of the network.
Nasinu 1000 lines Samabula 1000 lines
Ba 1600 lines Namaka 400 lines
At the end of 1986 the network had a total of 42,810 lines.
The microwave link from Namaka to Sigatoka together with the multiplex equipment was completed in 1985. Broadband(10 KHz) program circuits were also provided for the Fiji Broadcasting Commission in Suva, Lautoka and Rakiraki
Thirteen (13) new rural radio stations were built and put into service during 1986.
Maritime Mobile Services were upgraded with the replacement of two high frequency transmitters, replacement of an antenna system and equalisation of cable pairs between the Central Telegraph Office and the Central Receiving Station.
Another significant milestone was achieved in 1987 when two more AXE 103 digital exchanges went into service at Labasa and Nakasi.
The crossbar type electromechanical exchange at Nasinu was further extended by 1000 lines to cater for the big demand for a telephone service from the booming Nasinu area.
A 100 line manual exchange was also provided at Wainikoro as part of the continuing program of rural development.
At the end of 1987 the total exchange capacity available in the network was 47,910 lines of which 34,000 (71%) was utilised.
In the same year, a broadband (10 kHz) program circuit was provided from Suva to Lautoka for the transmission of FM96 programs to the Western Division.
Ten (10) new rural radio telephone stations were also opened during the year. Another four repeater stations provided 10 customers with a land mobile service. At the end of 1987 there were 46 repeaters, both P&T and private, providing service to 97 customers.
The fourth AXE 103 digital system having a capacity of 2000 lines was commissioned at Nakasi in 1988. Another 3000 line system was installed at Tamavua but the commissioning date was delayed due to the late arrival of digital transmission equipment to provide access into the national network via the Suva AXE exchange.
In 1988, a model AXE exchange was installed at the Telecommunication Training Center in Vatuwaqa for training purposes.
Elsewhere, a new 100 line Manual Exchange was installed and commissioned at Dreketi. The manual exchange in Tubou, Lakeba, which was having frequent operational problems was replaced with a similar manual system. Extension to the Korovou manual exchange was carried out with the provision of an additional switchboard position.
The total exchange capacity available at the end of 1988 was 52,746 with 35,655 lines used up by subscribers.
An 8 Mb/s digital radio system complete with digital multiplex equipment was added to the Suva and Tamavua AXE electronic exchanges so they could handle more international calls.
The first digital multiplex equipment operating at 34 Mb/s and associated transmultiplexers were installed in the Northern Division between Labasa and Delaikoro. Extensions to circuit capacity on several main routes were also undertaken. This provided a total of 1464 trunk and leased voice grade circuits
In 1989 a new digital AXE concept was introduced into the National Network. It enabled the fully electronic exchanges to work with the electro mechanical systems to meet the big demand from customers for the ISD facility.
The concept was used at:
Nadi AXE 104 (384 lines)
Namaka AXE 104 (512 lines)
Sigatoka AXE 104 (384 lines)
Two manual exchanges in the Northern Division, Savusavu and Waiyevo, were replaced with 640 line capacity AXE 104 digital systems.
The Suva AXE digital exchange was further extended by 1024 lines to cater for the ISD demand and international traffic generated by the increasing number of digital exchanges.
Tenders were finalised and orders placed for the first Digital Radio System (34 Mb/s) and Fibre Optic Transmission System. They went into service in 1990 as part of the Network Modernisation Program.