The remote island of St Helena is preparing for exciting changes with the introduction of high-speed internet and weekly flights from South Africa
While most of the world experienced significant globalisation over the past century, the south Atlantic island of St Helena has not. Its extreme isolation and lack of technological infrastructure have created a reputation as “a world of its own” and “a step back in time”. But major steps over the past few years have made the British overseas territory’s very different to what it was before the pandemic.
One of the remotest islands on the planet, and with a population of just 4,439, these changes aren’t straightforward for St Helena. But they could be revolutionary. Renewed accessibility, soon to be coupled with increased connectivity, make this beautiful, historic and biodiverse south Atlantic island a location to keep an eye on.
St Helena barely had time to adjust to air access before the Covid-19 pandemic decimated global travel. Prior to October 2017, the island was only accessible by ship; a five-day voyage from Cape Town. Then, the island’s first and only airport opened – allowing St Helena be reached in around six hours rather than five days.
This new accessibility was meant to increase opportunities for St Helena, including through tourism and investment. But then, in early 2020, the pandemic struck – while St Helena’s community was one of few to have remained Covid-free of all the way through to August 2022, limited flights and strict entry measures greatly restricted accessibility.
But now St Helena has reopened and is more accessible than ever. Weekly Airlink flights to/from South Africa resume from 8 October, and all Covid-related entry restrictions have been lifted.
First high-speed connectivity
Currently dealing with some of the slowest and most expensive internet connectivity in the world (customers pay for data by the megabyte), the Equiano undersea fibre optic cable could change everything for St Helena. International attention turned to the island when, in August 2021, St Helena’s branch of the Equiano cable was landed at the remote island. This signalled that soon, and for the first time, high-speed connectivity would be available to replace the current, extremely limited satellite speeds and to greatly increase opportunities such as e-learning, satellite ground station facilitation, and international banking.
The St Helena Government just announced a major step in preparations for the cable to “go live” – it is contracting Maestro Technologies Ltd to design, build and transfer St Helena’s own local fibre network, in order to deliver the increased speeds to homes and businesses across the island.
With a year’s worth of infrastructure-building and 80% of the other technological works toward cable activation already complete, the island hopes to see high-speed connectivity introduced from 2023.