Kokoda Communications Hubs
Icom Radios provide reliable communications to the Kokoda Track
The Kokoda Track is one of the most remote and challenging terrain around. With over 5000 visitors a year to this historic area, communications are essential for both the Kokoda Track Authority and the trekking companies who use this route. Not to mention the many villages who use the track daily to commute, with limited mobile coverage having reliable communications is key to safety on the track for all. VHF radios have been used along the track for a number of years to provide low cost and reliable communications, but due to a number of factors the existing system had deteriorated and required upgrades.
Funding was sourced and a plan put together to install new radios into 14 villages initially, identified as key locations along the track.
The Kokoda Track is a remote pathway 96kms long between Owers Corner and Kokoda. There is no access to the villages other than walking or helicopter, and even helicopter access is restricted by low weather patterns that occur. The VHF radios are connected to an existing repeater on Mt Fala – a site only accessible by helicopter when the weather permits. Unfortunately PNG also has high rates of vandalism and theft to property like this, namely due to the low economic factor. There is no power in these villages either, meaning each solution must be self supporting.
Each village required a VHF radio, with its own solar and battery supply that should allow 24hrs battery backup time. On top of this, it needs to be protected to ensure vandalism and theft attempts are minimised. Each site must be able to be easily installed as maintenance free as possible due to the remoteness.
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A communications hub was designed by TE to meet these requirements. A steel frame, with a secure box for the radio to be housed, coupled with solar panels on top and a locked box for battery and regulator storage ensure the system was as theft and vandal proof as possible. Each system was able to be built in Port Moresby and tested, then lifted via helicopter to the village where it was installed. On top of this, the hub provided 10x USB ports for charging things like mobile phones and cameras, as well as signage showing trekkers where on the track they were, plus space for information about the village and its significance to the track.
Two teams of technicians walked the track installing each hub as they went, this included digging the hole and concreting into position. Following installation they provided training to the villagers on the correct use of the radio. This meant the hub became a important tool to the village, as if they looked after it and ensured it remained it enabled them to connect to other villagers along the track – something they hadn’t had previously.
The Kokoda Track now has a reliable upgraded system designed to last many more years. The Kokoda Track Authority provides a higher level of safety, as does the trekking companies using the track. Villagers are in more contact with each other and as such using it regularly to update their families and friends as to their whereabouts. The Kokoda Track Authority is in discussions with TE (PNG) to upgrade the Mt Fala communications systems now to provide more capacity and redundancy in this system to ensure communications are kept operating for many years to come.