Technology for the stars

JOHANNESBURG (01/16/2004) - Telkom SA has the infrastructure and expertise in radio technology to elevate southern Africa to become the most advanced region for multi-wavelength astronomy in the world, says Reuben September, Telkom's chief technical officer.

Telkom's network has built-in protection to provide resilience and fibre-optic nodes in close proximity to the proposed sites for the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) in the Northern Cape, September told the International SKA Committee delegates in Cape Town Friday.

The committee is in the country to evaluate South Africa's (SA's) bid to attract the location of the SKA, a US$1 billion new generation telescope, which would be located in either Namaqualand near Nababeep, the Kalahari outside Upington, or Prieska in the Karoo.

"Telkom is willing and committed to participation in the SKA project. Telkom looks forward in assisting in the bidding committee process, especially the identification of suitable remote zones, and the development of methods to establish and maintain radio zones around the SKA sites," September says.

He adds that the project would create "realistic and global" business opportunities for the SA construction, defense, software, communication, electronics and steel industries.

The Department of Science and Technology (DST) and the National Research Foundation (NRF) are at the forefront of government's efforts to bring the telescope to southern Africa. The region is already a hub for the observation of stars, galaxies and the universe, as both the Southern Africa Large Telescope (SALT) in Sutherland, Northern Cape, and the High Energy Stereoscopic System (HESS) in Namibia, give the area an astronomical edge in world terms.

An international consortium, including SA and Namibia, will build the SKA. It will involve advanced capacity building in telecommunications, imaging technology, receiver technology, high-speed computing, antennae engineering, space physics and advanced computation.

September said Telkom was confident that it had the capability to provide suitable telecommunication infrastructure for the SKA project. Telkom's fibre-optic network penetrates much of SA's rural areas, and has an international connectivity capability by means of two undersea fibre-optic cables, namely the SAT3/WASC/SAFE (Afrolique), which connects SA and a number of African countries to Europe via Portugal, and the East via Reunion, Mauritius, India and Malaysia. These cables have the capacity to carry gigabits of data.

September says that Telkom is adopting an evolutionary approach towards a Next Generation Network, which would maximize existing infrastructure investments.

Telkom's 15 Centres of Excellence, in partnership with SA's tertiary education institutions and industry partners, were also focused on research and development in the field of communications, which could be leveraged to support the SKA project.

"Communications is a key element in the growth of the country. As such, Telkom is committed to participate in a meaningful and responsible manner with all parties, to ensure mutual benefit," September concludes.

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