Palapa Ring has successfully improved mobile connectivity in remote Indonesian islands

Last year Indonesia completed the final phase of the Palapa Ring project. The goal was to bridge the geographical divide in digital services and provide high-speed internet across the country, with a focus on some of the country’s most remote regions, particularly those in the east.

The approach was to build a new national infrastructure as a backbone of Indonesia’s telecommunications system by connecting seven of the archipelago’s island groupings: Sumatra, Jawa, Kalimantan, Nusa Tenggara, Sulawesi, Maluku and Papua, through a public-private partnership. To understand the effects of the country's significant investments in network infrastructure, Opensignal investigated our users’ mobile network experience across 12 regions of Indonesia, covering all seven archipelagos.

The improvement Opensignal has seen in mobile network experience over the last two years demonstrates that, among other factors at play, Indonesia’s operators have been taking advantage of the Palapa Ring project to bring mobile connectivity beyond Jawa and address the inequality in mobile network experience across the archipelago.

Our users saw outstanding improvements in all 12 regions over the last two years, between the third quarter of 2018 and the same quarter in 2020 for mobile Download Speed Experience, Video Experience, and 4G Availability. The gap in mobile network experience between Jawa — Indonesia’s political, population and economic center— and the more remote islands has decreased significantly. In fact, the experience in remote islands has become even better than parts of Jawa in some cases.

Most Indonesian smartphone users now connect to a 4G service at least 9 out of 10 times

Our Indonesian users also experienced notable growth in 4G Availability — the proportion of time our 4G users spent connected to 4G services — across all regions. In the third quarter of 2018, most of the areas were below the 80% 4G Availability mark. But two years later, almost all the regions have broken through or risen significantly closer to the 90% 4G Availability milestone.

Our users saw the largest 4G Availability improvement in the Sulawesi region — an increase of 15.4 percentage points — followed closely by users in Sumatra, Maluku and Papua, who reported gains of 15 to 14 percentage points. Concurrently, their counterparts in Jawa Timur, Nusa Tenggara and Kalimantan reported little more than a 12 percentage point rise in their 4G Availability score. Users in the more populated regions — Jawa Barat, Yogyakarta, and Jakarta Raya — saw improvements of ten percentage points or lower. Jakarta Raya saw the smallest upswing of 8 percentage points, given the limited scope of improvements with already high 4G Availability.

That said, users in Jakarta Raya now enjoy the highest 4G Availability of 94.1%, followed by Banten and Jawa Barat with scores just above 93%. The 4G Availability scores of users in most of the remaining regions ranged between 91%-90%. While Maluku was less than a point shy of the same, Papua and Kalimantan were further away with 88.8% and 87.1%.

Given one of the Palapa Ring project’s priorities was to provide high-speed internet, let us look at the overall Download Speed Experience on mobile networks. Over the last two years, our users in the remote island of Papua saw the most remarkable improvement of 87% on Download Speed Experience, followed by their counterparts in the capital region of Jakarta Raya and Kalimantan, who observed 78% faster download speeds, on average. In Banten, our users saw their speeds increase by 74%.

Likewise, in Jawa Timur, Jawa Barat, Sumatra, Yogyakarta and Nusa Tenggara, our users saw impressive but relatively lower improvements ranging between 58% to 50%. While our users saw smaller improvements — below 50% — in Jawa Tengah (48%) and Sulawesi (44%), those in the Maluku region saw the smallest increase of 26%.

With these advances, Jakarta Raya topped Download Speed Experience with 13.6 Mbps, just marginally ahead of the remote eastern regions of Papua (13.1 Mbps), Nusa Tenggara (12.8 Mbps) and Maluku (12.6 Mbps). Banten took its place in the top five with an average download speed of 12 Mbps, while the remaining western and the central regions trailed behind with speeds averaging between 11.8 Mbps (Jawa Timur) and 10.2 Mbps (Jawa Barat). Jawa Tengah was the only exception where our users reported download speeds below 10 Mbps.

Indonesian smartphone users in almost all the regions now enjoy a Good Video Experience

Turning to Video Experience, our users saw the greatest improvement in percentage terms in the Papua region — an increase of 36% — followed by those in Banten, Jawa Barat, Kalimantan and Maluku, who observed an upswing of 30% to 28% in this category, respectively. Meanwhile, our users in the remaining regions reported an improvement of 25% to 18% in their Video Experience scores. 

With this level of progress, the Video Experience rating for our users in each of the regions has upgraded from Fair (40-55) to Good (55-65) on a 100-point scale, except for users in Jawa Tengah who reported a score of 52.6 points to continue to remain in the Fair category. This means that users in the vast majority of regions enjoyed an acceptable experience when streaming mobile video at lower resolutions. However, there is room to improve further. For example, our users’ in Jawa Tengah saw an experience generally marred by slower loading times and prolonged stalling, especially at high resolution. But further investments could improve this in future, similar to other regions.

Jakarta Raya led our Video Experience analysis with a score of 63.6 points. Simultaneously, Nusa Tenggara, Papua, Banten and Maluku statistically tied for the second place with scores ranging between 60.2 to 61.5 points. And with scores below 60 points, the other regions, including Jawanese regions (Jawa Barat, Jawa Timur and Jawa Tengah), fell behind their remote island counterparts.

Across all three measures of the mobile experience that we’ve analyzed in this insight, users in the capital region of Jakarta Raya have reported the best experience, closely followed by users in the remote regions — such as Papua, Maluku and Nusa Tenggara — while Jawanese regions fall behind, especially in Download Speed Experience and Video Experience.

The improvement Opensignal has seen in mobile network experience in the last two years demonstrates that Indonesia’s operators have been taking advantage of the Palapa Ring project to bring mobile connectivity access outside Jawa and address the inequality in mobile network experience across the archipelago.

Although Indonesia is one of the largest digital economies in South-East Asia, ubiquitous access to the mobile internet has historically been a significant challenge due to the vast and varied nature of the country’s geography. The newfound connectivity that has resulted from the Palapa Ring project will not only have a significant knock-on effect on Indonesia’s digital economy but will also play a crucial role in delivering vital services to underserved populations. It could facilitate a more effective delivery of the country’s Universal Service Obligation (USO) and could catalyze the use of e-government, e-education, e-health, mobile financial services, and much more, driving positive socio-economic outcomes and digital inclusion efforts.

In the future, it will be interesting to see whether our users’ experience in Indonesia’s more remote islands matches up with that in the capital region or whether regional differences in experience persist. Much of this will depend on the extent to which mobile operators continue to deploy more cellular base station sites as more and more users connect to the mobile internet and demand for data continues to grow. Also, with mobile being the preferred medium to access the internet in the country, any mobile operator leading in most of our mobile experience metrics will have a distinct advantage, and for now, that’s Telkomsel.

In our last report, we saw that Telkomsel was the dominant operator in Indonesia because the operator won five out of seven of our awards outright. However, with continued national efforts by mobile operators and the Indonesian government to drive network investment and ensure the provision of the required supporting infrastructure, Indonesians in all regions should benefit from enhanced connectivity and consumer choice. Building more national telecommunications infrastructure will help all of Indonesia’s operators in increasing their network reach to more remote parts of the country and further improve the mobile network experience of Indonesians.