blank [Saint Helena Island Info:Communications]

Communications

Getting the message

blank [Saint Helena Island Info:Communications]

The time has come, the Walrus said, To talk of many things
Lewis Carroll in ‘Through the Looking Glass’

We’re not exactly up-to-date but we can still communicate with the world.

This page is in indexes: Island Detail

Communications [Saint Helena Island Info:Communications]

This page is about communications in general to and from St Helena. For this site’s contact details please see our Contact Saint Helena Island Info page.

Below: PostSea FreightTelephonesThe Internet and EmailMobile (‘cell’) Phones‘Solar Interference’Sure South Atlantic Ltd.Military RadioThe Eastern Telegraph CableRead More

You may also be interested in our page Amateur (‘Ham’) Radio. And if you are trying to contact friends or family or find a pen-pal on St Helena our Family And Friends page may be helpful.

Post

Below: Posting to St HelenaDelivery to/from St HelenaPosting from St HelenaSt Helena internal post

Posting to St Helena

Post [Saint Helena Island Info:Communications]

St Helena issues its own postage stamps. See our Postage Stamps page to learn more about these and also the island’s early postal history. You may also be interested in our collection of St Helena postcards.

Snail Mail [Saint Helena Island Info:Communications]

We can send and receive post, both letters and small packages (larger packages require sea freight).

The correct postal address for sending things to St Helena is:

Recipient’s Name
House Name or ‘Near …’
Area (e.g. Jamestown / Half Tree Hollow)
Island of St Helena / St Helena Island / St Helena (it doesn’t seem to matter which)
STHL 1ZZ
South Atlantic Ocean

Note that the postcode (‘zip code’) ‘STHL 1ZZ’ applies to the entire island, and also that the ‘South Atlantic Ocean’, while strictly unnecessary, does seem to help prevent letters being routed to California, South Carolina or Australia!

Some people have Post Office Boxes, as we do. There is no letter delivery to your home or office - you have to collect your letter from the main Post Office in Jamestown or from a shop near your home - so a Post Office Box is easier and more reliable. Our address is:

P.O. Box 37,
Jamestown,
Island of St Helena{1}
South Atlantic Ocean
STHL 1ZZ

If sending mail to St Helena it is best to complete a customs declaration at the sending post office. By declaring that the contents are of ‘no commercial value’{2} you may save the recipient from having to open the packet at the Post Office here so that it’s contents can be examined and asssessed for import duty.

Delivery to/from St Helena

At present all mail to and from St Helena is carried by the RMS St Helena. Your letter or parcel is first routed to the UK. Form there, if you select Air Mail it should travel by air to Ascension Island, to await the next call of the RMS St Helena there; if you elect for surface mail it will be routed by sea to Cape Town, South Africa, again to await the next call of the RMS. The RMS calls at Ascension Island roughly every three weeks so even Air Mail can take a month to reach us. For surface mail 2-3 months is normal.

When the scheduled commercial air service begins normal post will travel all the way by airmail. For bulkier items see below.

Posting from St Helena

When sending post from St Helena you need to take your letter or parcel to the Post Office in Jamestown, open normal office hours - there are no letter boxes around the island. At the Post Office they will provide you with a customs form and sell you the appropriate stamp. You can then drop your letter into the posting box in the Post Office building.

St Helena internal post

You will see from the above that there is no point whatsoever in posting a letter in St Helena to a St Helena destination{17}. Government departments and larger local businesses employ messengers. Smaller businesses and individuals deliver their post by hand.

Sea Freight

Sea Freight [Saint Helena Island Info:Communications]

At present all bulk cargo to and from St Helena is carried by the RMS St Helena, but when the scheduled commercial air service commences the RMS will be retired and its cargo operations replaced by a new Sea Freight service.

Operated by AW Ship Management Ltd., a vessel will sail from Cape Town to St Helena and back initially every five weeks, using a leased vessel with a capacity of approx. 250 TEU. AW Ship Management Ltd. plans to purchase its own dedicated vessel in 2017 and then delivery frequency will move to a four-weekly cycle. Unlike the RMS St Helena, the new service will not be subsidised, so it is expected that cargo prices will rise.

It is expected that the ship will unload at St Helena directly onto the new wharf at Ruperts.

The ship will also serve Ascension Island, and will have a “small number” of passenger cabins available for those who prefer not to or cannot travel by air.

The MV St Helena actually had an early trial run. The RMS St Helena suffered engine problems in March/April 2017 and missed an entire voyage so the MV St Helena made a single trip, arriving on 3rd April with 698.36 tonnes of cargo. Unfortunately she was unable to dock at the new wharf in Rupert’s, so had to be unloaded in the ‘conventional’ way.

To send packages to St Helena contact Richard James International Ltd., Chittening Ind. Est., Bristol BS11 0YB, United Kingdom; +44 117 982 8575.

Telephones

Below: Calling to St HelenaCalling from and within St HelenaCurious features of our telephone systemRadio Telephones

Telephones [Saint Helena Island Info:Communications]

Fixed-line telephone services on St Helena are provided by Sure South Atlantic Limited. (For mobile/cell ‘phones, see below.)

Old switchboard [Saint Helena Island Info:Communications]
Old switchboard, probably in use until the 1980s, now in the Museum of St Helena{4}

Calling to St Helena

The international dialling code for calls to St Helena is 290. In most countries, St Helena is treated as a ‘high-cost destination’ and you may need to contact your telephone service provider to get calls to St Helena un-barred.

If you don’t know the number of the person you want to call, and your local international directory enquiries can’t help, call (+290) 22222 (24hrs) and the Sure South Atlantic Limited Operator will help. Sure South Atlantic Limited have also put the telephone directory online. 93% of St Helena houses have a telephone{5}.

St Helena is on GMT with no daylight saving time:

Calling from and within St Helena

St Helena has its own automated telephone exchange which can route calls locally or overseas. For local calls dial the five-digit number{6} (there are no area codes). For international calls dial ‘00’ followed by the country code and telephone number - on some telephones international calls may be barred because of the expense{7}.

You can reach the operator and local directory enquiries on 22222. In an emergency: Dial 999 for fire or police; dial 911 for ambulance. For any other emergency call the police.

There are payphones and telephone kiosks around the island; these take cash or telephone cards (which can be purchased at the offices of Sure South Atlantic Limited in Jamestown - open normal office hours - and some other shops, also mostly in Jamestown). A few payphones accept credit cards.

Curious features of our telephone system

In actual fact the island’s telephone exchange is a PABX system, as you would find in any large office. This provides a few interesting features:

  • You can tell if a call is local or international by the telephone ring:
     {ring} {pause} {ring} {pause} {etc.} is a local call;
     {ring} {ring} {pause} {ring} {ring} {pause} {etc.} is an international call or one from a local Mobile.

  • You can divert your calls to another (local) telephone.{8}
    To divert all calls dial #9 followed by the number of the telephone calls are to be diverted to. To cancel dial ##9.
    To divert calls when your line is busy dial #0# followed by the number of the telephone calls are to be diverted to. To cancel dial ##0#.
    To divert calls when you do not answer (after five rings) dial #0* followed by the number of the telephone calls are to be diverted to. To cancel dial ##0*.

  • If the telephone you call is engaged you can set up a ring-back.
    When you hear the engaged tone press R#1 and then hang up. (On some telephones the R button is called ‘Recall’.)

  • You can put your caller on hold while you call another telephone.
    Press R# then dial the number of the other telephone. After the other party answers, either you hang up, in which case the call is transferred to them, or they hang up, in which case you get the caller back.

However Caller Line Identification (which is how you find the number of the person who just called you) is not available.

Telephone History

Telehones were introduced to St Helena by the War Office in 1898, to improve communiations with the island’s many lookout posts and signal stations. Control was transferred to the Government of St Helena in 1906 but in 1907 due to financial difficulties the system almost closed and was taken over privately. In 1914 there were 17 telephones, and the 1928 ‘Blue Book’{9} records that the telephone system had 33 instruments and 41 miles of wire. The profit for the year was £39{10}. The system was taken over by Cable & Wireless{11} on 21st August 1989.

Radio Telephones

The first radio telephone link, between St Helena and Ascension Island, opened on 7th May 1957. This was followed by a link through to the UK (via Ascension Island) in October of the same year. A link to South Africa was launched ten years later in December 1967.

This system remained in use until it was replaced by the (current) satellite-based system.

The Internet and Email

There’s a statistical theory that if you gave a million monkeys typewriters and set them to work, they’d eventually come up with the complete works of Shakespeare. Thanks to the Internet, we now know this isn’t true.
Ian Hart

Below: Accessing the Internet in St Helena‘Wi-Fi Hotspots’‘State of the Island’ report, 2015History

Internet and Email [Saint Helena Island Info:Communications]

Internet services on St Helena are provided by Sure South Atlantic Limited.

Many St Helena organisations have websites but this is far less common than in the UK or America. Local people will not use the Internet to find out local information - a telephone call is cheaper, or just ask a friend! Organisations tend to have websites only if they wish to communicate with Saints or Non-Saints overseas.

A Google™ search for ‘Saint Helena’ will bring up many sites that are in California, which has a town called ‘Saint Helena’, or South Carolina, which has an area known as ‘Saint Helena Island’. For this reason it is best when using Google™ to append to your search ‘-napa -carolina -california’, which will remove many of these irrelevant results.

satellite ground station dish [Saint Helena Island Info:Communications]

You may find that websites hosted on St Helena are slower to respond than those hosted elsewhere. Our Internet link goes via satellite and this is due to limited satellite capacity{12}.

Accessing the Internet in St Helena

Assuming you are a visitor you will not have a telephone account and will need to use one of the few Internet Kiosks, mostly in Jamestown. Beware that these are expensive!

If you are staying longer you can sign up for an Internet access package, billed on your telephone account (this should be available even if you are renting accommodation but check with your landlord). This too is likely to seem expensive by the standards of your home country, and the connections will seem slow. All our Internet traffic is routed via a satellite which is expensive and has limited capacity.

58% of St Helena households have Internet access{5}.

For Broadband pricing information please contact Sure South Atlantic Limited.

‘Wi-Fi Hotspots’

Because Internet access is so expensive on St Helena, and bandwidth so limited, the convention often found in the US and Europe whereby larger corporations provide free Wi-Fi access to all comers just does not happen. Wi-Fi access is provided in certain locations (all of them currently in Jamestown) by Sure South Atlantic Limited, but at a cost. See www.sure.co.sh/wifihotspots.html to learn more.

‘State of the Island’ report, 2015

State of the Island, 2015, Fig. 11 [Saint Helena Island Info:Communications]

St Helena’s isolation and reliance on satellite technology, means that internet services are limited and expensive compared to many countries, and are a major barrier to development. The top residential package offered in St Helena provides 13.3 megabytes of data at a speed of 1.5 megabits per second, and costs £180.50 per month. In comparison, unlimited broadband, at speeds 10 times faster than those available in St Helena, can cost less than £20 per month in the UK. However, starting from a low base, improvements have been made over the last three years in both price and quality. This is supporting the aim of a greater proportion of households and businesses having internet access. For each of the various broadband packages available, data allowances have more than doubled, download speeds have quadrupled and prices have fallen by 23%. Figure 11 illustrates the changes seen in two popular packages - Gold (£92 per month) and Bronze (£23 per month).

SHG “State of the Island” report, 2015 (927.3Kb){13}

Since 2012 it has been proposed that St Helena should be connected to the South Atlantic Express (SAEx) submarine fibre optic cable that is being laid from South Africa to Brazil. There would be a cost to get St Helena connected, estimated at £10m, and initial indications were that the UK Government would not foot the bill, saying that “telecommunications for St Helena is the responsibility of the St Helena Government”. Sure South Atlantic Limited investigated and concluded that they too would not pay the cost of connection.

A campaign is running to get St Helena connected to this cable. More at www.connectsthelena.org. In October 2016 S.A.M.S. Radio 1 reported that connection might be possible in 2019.

History

Dial-up Internet connection was first introduced to St Helena in 1996, but this required a call to Ascension Island and out onto the Internet from there. The first local dial-up service was introduced in 1999.

Permanently-on (‘broadband’) Internet connections were launched in November 2007 with island-wide availability completed by the end of 2008. The dial-up service ended in 2010. Wi-Fi Internet was first offered in February 2008 (the first ‘hotspot’ being at Ann’s Place).

Mobile (‘cell’) Phones

Mobile Phones [Saint Helena Island Info:Communications]

Mobile Phones cartoon [Saint Helena Island Info:Communications]

Mobile Phone services on St Helena are provided by Sure South Atlantic Limited.

A mobile phone servive came into operation on St Helena in September 2015. The network is designed with a 2G GSM layer and a 4G LTE layer to support data services.

Roaming{14} is planned to be introduced “after service launch” - roaming handsets need to be 900MHz GSM and Band 3 1,800MHz LTE.

Local SMS service was available at launch with international SMS scheduled to become available “soon after network launch”.

Mobile numbers use the ranges (+290) 5XXXX and (+290) 6XXXX.

Due to the topology of St Helena with deep valleys and guts, there will be some small areas with no coverage.” Sea coverage is not part of the planned coverage area.

For pricing information please contact Sure South Atlantic Limited.

Some satellite phone systems also work here, with limited coverage.

‘Solar Interference’

Sun outage notice [Saint Helena Island Info:Communications]

All of our internet and telephone traffic is carried to and from the island by satellite. On St Helena the signals are sent and received by a large dish antenna, located in The Briars, just up the valley from Jamestown.

Because of the location of the satellite, at some times of the year, when it is at a particular point in its travel across the sky{15}, the Sun shines directly onto the dish. This has the effect of disrupting the transmission and receipt of signals, although usually only for a few minutes.

Other than launching another satellite (which is a bit beyond the island’s means) there is nothing anyone can do about this. Notices like the one opposite appear in the local newspapers to warn of the outages. If you try to contact St Helena by telephone during these times you will gert an error tone - try again ten minutes later. Websites hosted on the island may also be inaccessible{12}.

Sure South Atlantic Ltd.

SURE logo [Saint Helena Island Info:Communications]

Sure South Atlantic Limited at The Briars [Saint Helena Island Info:Communications]
Sure South Atlantic Limited at The Briars{a}

Electronic communications (telephones; Internet/email; Mobile Phones) are provided on St Helena by Sure South Atlantic Ltd., under monopoly licence from the Government of St Helena.

For more see the company’s website.

Military Radio

Royal Navy Wireless Station, 1940s [Saint Helena Island Info:Communications]

1941 photo ‘Deadwood Station’ [Saint Helena Island Info:Communications]
1941 photo ‘Deadwood Station’
Direction Finding [Saint Helena Island Info:Communications]

We know the Royal Navy operated a military radio station on St Helena during World War 2. Sadly we know almost nothing about it, so the following is rather sketchy, but we think reasonably accurate.

It is understood from local stories circulating at the time that the St Helena station worked in conjunction with one on Ascension Island in Direction Finding - using radio to locate German ships and submarines operating in the South Atlantic. The principle is simple. If St Helena and Ascension both receive a signal transmitted by an enemy ship, and if both note the direction from which the signal originates, then where the lines cross on the map is the location of the vessel. The diagram (right) illustrates. For a more detailed explanation see the Wikipedia.

We also think it may have had a role in coordinating naval operations in the South Atlantic, using the sub-Atlantic cable to relay messages to and from London. The badge (left), on a Christmas Greeting from 1943, is about the only firm evidence we can find of its existence and we think its operations were secret.

If you can provide any furthe information, please contact us.

Note that it had the callsign ‘ZHH’ - as is employed today by St Helena Radio (VHF Channel 16) which is used by yachts and other shipping visiting or passing St Helena.

Talking of mysterious stations, read also about our Diplomatic Wireless Station.

The Eastern Telegraph Cable

Cable-laying ship [Saint Helena Island Info:Communications]
Cable-laying ship{b}

Late in 1899 St Helena was connected to Cape Town, and shortly afterwards to London (via Ascension Island), by an undersea telegraph cable, allowing telegrams to be sent almost instantaneously to the UK and, via other connections, anywhere in the British Empire. The article below discusses this further. From the ‘Blue Book’{9} 1899:

The Eastern Telegraph Company have now got a station here. The line was first laid from the Cape to St Helena and connection established on November 24th last ; on the 15th December of the year under report, the line was extended to Ascension, and then through communication with England, via St Vincent, was established. The charge per word is 4s.

It was hoped that the ability to exchange messages immediately with London might result in an increase in the number of ships calling, thus benefiting the island’s economy, but sadly this was not the case. In the 1904 ‘Blue Book’{9} it was reported that only five vessels had availed themselves of this facility in the year.

Read More

Article: “St Helena’s part in the ‘Victorian Internet’.

By J C Grimshaw, published on jcgrimshaw.blogspot.co.uk 11th April 2011{13}{16}

At the time of the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879 (Isandlwana, Rorke’s Drift et al) it took twenty days for a message to travel from Southern Africa via steamer to the Cape Verde islands and on by telegraph to London. As this remained the situation at the outbreak of the Second Boer War in October 1899 a quicker and more direct route was urgently required. The Eastern Telegraph Company contracted the Telegraph Construction and Maintenance Company to manufacture and lay the necessary cables which were to link Cape Town - St Helena - Ascension Island and St Vincent in the Cape Verde Islands. Messages could then be routed over the Western Telegraph Companies’ existing cables from St Vincent via Madeira to Carcavelos, Portugal. From there to Porthcurno in Cornwall they again travelled over the Eastern network.

The Cable Ship Anglia laid the 3,825Km first stage from Cape Town to St Helena, completing it by 26th November 1899, and while CS Anglia returned to the UK for more cable CS Seine laid the section from St Helena to Ascension Island, a distance of 1,560Km, completing it by 15th December 1899. CS Anglia then laid 3,660Km of cable from Ascension Island to St Vincent, Cape Verde Islands, completing the task by 21st February 1900 only four months after the start of the war.

The Victorian ‘Internet’ reached St Helena [Saint Helena Island Info:Communications]

In 1901 the Eastern Telegraph Company contracted the same company to manufacture and lay another set of cables from St Vincent to Madeira, 2,090Km, and from there a 2,550 cable to Porthcurno. CS Anglia and CS Britannia carried out this work. To provide an alternative route in case of cable failure another cable laid by CS Anglia in the same year was that from Ascension to Freetown, Sierra Leone, a distance of 2,085Km.

In 1902 the final link in the global network of cables owned and operated by British companies was made with the laying of the Pacific cable from Canada to Australia. The Pacific Cable, jointly owned by the British Government and the Governments of Canada, Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, New Zealand, Tasmania and Western Australia in a unique partnership arrangement was, “effected in obedience to the strong desire of the people of the wide-spread British Empire to utilize electricity for the accomplishment of Imperial consolidation”, and to ensure that ‘The All Red Line’ touched only the territories of the British Empire.

Some parts of the line had been completed considerably earlier. In 1866, the Great Eastern connected Ireland to Newfoundland, by 1870 Suez was linked to Bombay and from there to Madras, Penang and Singapore. Australia was linked to British telegraph cables directly in 1870, by extending a line from Singapore to Port Darwin and by 1872, messages could be sent direct from London to Sydney.

To complete the network, the final major cable laying project was the trans-Pacific section. The route selected was Bamfield, Vancouver Island - Fanning Island - Fiji - Norfolk Island. From Norfolk Island, two cables would be laid, one to Southport, Queensland, with a landline to Sydney, while the other would land at Doubtless Bay, Auckland and in total 14,500Km of cable would be required.

It was decided to lay the Bamfield-Fanning Island section in one continuous length. At the time no cable ship existed that could carry the cable to do this, so the Telegraph Construction & Maintenance Company had CS Colonia built. Laying of the 6,400Km long cable began at Bamfield on 18th September 1902, reaching Fanning Island on 6th October. Fanning Island had been formally annexed to Great Britain in 1888.

Map of the Victorian ‘Internet’ [Saint Helena Island Info:Communications]

In September 1914, the German cruiser, Nurnberg, slipped up to Fanning flying a French flag. The Germans landed and wrecked the cable station, cut the cable and destroyed a cache of spare instruments. It is also said that they also found time to raid the local post office and steal some stamps. Within two weeks the severed ends of the cable had been found and, communications re-established. In December the same year Nurnberg was sunk at the Battle of the Falklands.

The CS Anglia which had been used to connect Cape Town and St Helena then laid all the sections from Fanning Island to Australia and New Zealand during 1902.

The ‘All Red Line’ was inaugurated on 31st October 1902 and the Imperial Defence Committee was able to report to the British Government, “The dependence of the United Kingdom on cable stations situated upon foreign territory has been generally eliminated.

Britain dominated the international cable networks and no other country possessed such an extensive network. In 1896 there were 30 cable-laying ships in the world, 24 of them owned by British companies. The Eastern Telegraph Company controlled almost 50 per cent of the world’s submarine cables while other British companies owned another 30 per cent of the cable routes. These figures underestimate the extent of British domination of worldwide telegraphic traffic because, apart from a number of transatlantic cables, most of the submarine cables owned by non-British companies were local links connecting to British long-distance routes.

Eastern Telegraph Station, c.1900 [Saint Helena Island Info:Communications]
Eastern Telegraph Station, c.1900

Over the following years the Eastern and Western Telegraph Companies merged along with others such as The China Submarine Telegraph Company and The British-Indian Submarine Telegraph Company to form the, wonderfully named, Imperial and International Communications Ltd which in 1934 became Cable and Wireless.

More stories [Saint Helena Island Info:Communications]

More stories on our page Read articles about St Helena.

closinghumourimage [Saint Helena Island Info:Communications]

Laugh at funny communications humour - LOL [Saint Helena Island Info:Communications]


Credits:

{a} Tourist Office

{b} St Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha Philatelic Society (SHATPS)



Footnotes:

{1} Or St Helena Island, or St. Helena, it doesn’t seem to matter which.

{2} Assuming, of course, that they are.

{3} There is only one!

{4} The first automated telephone exchange ‘went live’ on 16th April 1983, with 600 lines and three-digit telephone numbers. The first public telephone, at White Gate, was introduced in November the following year.

{5} Source: 2016 Census.

{6} Until 1st October 2013 they had just four digits. If you have an old four-digit number, just add a 2 to the front: hence 2944 becomes 22944.

{7} Contact Sure South Atlantic Limited for latest prices.

{8} You could, for example, divert all your unanswered calls to The Castle (22470), if you so wished!

{9} Formally the ‘Colonial Annual Report’ - a document setting out the island’s income, expenditure and other administrative matters for the year. Signed by the Governor or acting Governor usually in April-June of the year following.

{10} 

{11} Now Sure South Atlantic Limited.

{12} Which is one reason why this website, the moonbeamsforall.com: Moonbeams Shop • opens in a new window or tab [Saint Helena Island Info:Communications]Moonbeams Shop site and all the burghhouse.com: Burgh House • opens in a new window or tab [Saint Helena Island Info:Communications]Burgh House sites are hosted in the UK.

{13} Reproduced for educational non-commercial use only; all copyrights are acknowledged.

{14} That is, the ability of a visitor with an overseas mobile phone to connect to the local network, or of a local mobile phone customer to connect to a network overseas.

{15} Pedants will observe that the Sun does not travel across the sky, it only appears to due to the rotation of the Earth, but this is an explanation of Solar Interference not a treatise on astrophysics.

{16} See more blogs.

{17} The story goes that one Christmas a chap decided to post all his local Christmas cards, so he took them to the Post Office, bought stamps and posted them. A few days later he was stopped by the postman{3} and asked if he would mind taking ‘some letters’ and delivering them to his neighbours. The ‘letters’ were his Christmas cards…



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