According to local press reports, French Polynesia’s council of ministers has granted Pacific Mobile Telecom (PMT) access to paired spectrum in the 900MHz band. The cellco will be allowed to use the 902.5MHz-915MHz and 947.5MHz-960MHz frequency blocks that had previously been assigned to financially-stricken start-up Mara Telecom. The new frequencies are expected to allow PMT to inaugurate commercial services in 2Q13. PMT CEO Patrick Moux commented: ‘This demonstrates the government’s willingness to open the market to competition’. According to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) the Office des Postes et Telecommunications has allocated the prefix ‘89’ to the new operator. The country code for French Polynesia is +689. In January 2012 UK-based Vodafone Group announced that it had agreed a new strategic partnership with PMT, extending the company brand to one of the most remote territories in the Asia-Pacific region. To so-called ‘Vodafone Partner Markets’ are a series of strategic alliances between Vodafone and local mobile network operators which Vodafone does not own. Partner Markets agreements vary from full Vodafone branding arrangements under licence through to product branding, roaming and service resale agreements.
In related news, French Polynesia’s commercial court has declared locally-owned Mara Telecom bankrupt, and the company is now set for liquidation. Website lesnouvelles.pf reports that the firm had racked up debits of XPF2.4 billion (USD26.2 million) since 2008. The news of Mara’s collapse means that newcomer PMT’s only competition in the wireless sector is Tikiphone, which is owned by fixed line incumbent l’Office des Postes et Telecommunications (OPT). Tikiphone launched a 2G network on Tahiti in 1995 and went on to become only the third South Pacific nation – after Australia and New Zealand – to inaugurate a 3G network, when it launched in 2009. As at 31 December 2012 Tikiphone claimed a subscriber base of 227,600 and offered 2G coverage of 62 islands, covering 98% of the population. In the twelve months ended 31 December 2012 Tikiphone reportedly generated revenues of XPF9.4 billion. In February 2010 Irish-owned telecoms group Digicel Pacific announced that it had secured a wireless network operating licence for French Polynesia and was committed to investing USD100 million in the new venture. However, the company’s plans were scuppered in October 2010 when French Polynesia’s legislative assembly passed a bill putting a 35% ceiling on any foreign investment in that sector. Digicel promptly declared that its investment within the country had been put on hold with immediate effect.