The challenges of communication on the African continent mean that wildly different industries depend upon the same technology base and service for safe, secure and efficient operations, according to Max Tangen, Marketing Director, Vizada Networks and Mike Hennessey, Managing Director, Spidersat Communications.
The African continent has greatly improved terrestrial communications following decades of development by local and international companies. The Seacom cable runs the length of the African East coast and many capital cities and large towns are benefiting from the fast broadband and high quality voice that it brings with it. However, the sheer size, and often harsh, inhospitable environment means that its unlikely that Africa will ever be as connected using terrestrial communications as Europe, North America and indeed much of Asia.
VSAT is the communications lifeline for enterprise, NGO and humanitarian organisations, and government departments working in Africa. It supplies high speed, always-on broadband and premium voice communications regardless of the environment. A 2.4 meter antenna can serve the communication needs of any size site, anywhere on the entire African continent. As VSAT is in many cases the primary requirement of customers in Africa, Vizada Networks dedicates a whole business unit to the continent and ensures that it has some kind of presence in every African country.
The company has developed advanced technology for high-speed Internet access. This proprietary technology has been designed to maximize efficiency of links on both the IP and satellite levels, which results in predictable service, enhanced productivity, and an excellent end-user experience. The solution available on the market is called Taide WorldConnect, a bundled managed IP solution that combines two services; Taide Link for Tx connection, and Taide Broadband for Rx connection.
Taide Link is an advanced SCPC service combining state-of-the-art VSAT technology with global Internet access through the Vizada Networks backbone. The service allows establishment of point-to-point satellite links and optionally features variable bit-rate transmission capability. Taide Broadband is a high-quality, high-speed receive-only service using frame relay encapsulation, which has been, until today, the most efficient way of encapsulation in light of satellite capacity usage. The Taide Broadband service is built on JanUX technology and the solution provides bandwidth that is dedicated to the client with guaranteed CIR.
Vizada Networks is currently working on new technologies that will make use of the latest developments and will offer upgraded feature sets. A primary aim of this development is to achieve even better space capacity utilisation, which will result in an improved, and even more cost effective, service.
Regardless of the application, WorldConnect is the prevalent VSAT technology foundation being used by Vizada Networks and its partners and customers in Africa. The company counts among others; brewers, embassies, mining outfits and aid organisations as users. The technology supplies the stable, reliable connection that is needed for efficient communications, whilst the customers harness it to meet completely different demands.
Communications For Aid
One high profile user of WorldConnect is aid agency Oxfam, who uses the service in Uganda. Raising awareness of the needs of people affected by the long conflict in northern Uganda, lobbying for peace and rights of nomadic herders, tackling domestic violence and campaigning for change, Oxfam GB (the UK arm of the famous organisation) in Uganda is dependent on reliable connectivity to effectively communicate its issues with the world. Oxfam was using leased line connectivity via a local ISP to connect the country office in Kampala to the Internet, and for its data (and voice) transmission needs. However, this solution turned out to be insufficient and expensive.
Firstly, the leased line service was unreliable and the link availability was intermittent. Secondly, leased line connectivity was expensive when compared to alternative connectivity products such as dial-up, ADSL, WLL, or WIMAX, due to the fact that the lines are dedicated exclusively to the leaseholder. In addition, the link was shared and would become unuseable during the core business hours due to congestion. Technical support was also a major challenge, and issues usually took a long while to get resolved. Finally Oxfam had to manage its own network termination equipment.
The protracted dissatisfaction with the quality of service provided by using leased line led Oxfam to re-evaluate the situation and seek a more efficient solution for their needs. Oxfam is operating in some of the most underdeveloped parts of the world, where VSAT is the typical technology of choice for providing coverage in areas that lack good and reliable infrastructure. In such situations satellite links are able to deliver very high availability and quality, truly independent of local infrastructure.
At Oxfams office in Kampala, a JanUX modem with a 5-Watt BUC, and 2.4 meter antenna are deployed. The solution is provided on a dedicated C-band satellite platform that is less interference-prone (less sensitive to atmospheric disruptions, such as rain etc.) compared to Ku-band based services. Furthermore, as part of the solution Oxfam receives remote support and network management from the Vizada Networks NOC (Network Operations Centre), which is backed by a strict service level agreement (SLA), with performance penalties and MTTR guarantees. Oxfam GB in Uganda has contracted Vizada Networks to deploy the same solution at two of its remote field offices in Kitgum and Kotido.
The new connectivity solution for the country office in Kampala met Oxfams expectations. Not only was the service up and running in less than four weeks, Oxfam is now benefiting from the 99.5 percent availability of the link, enjoying the dedicated C-band VSAT connectivity without even thinking about the amount of data transmitted per month. The service costs less to manage than the leased line and the new infrastructure offers flexibility and scalability. It also benefits from a range of QoS features implemented on the link and ensures different types of data traffic can be prioritised for efficient communication.
Vizada Networks can check remotely that Oxfams VSAT is working properly as well, as it features JanUX advanced performance monitoring. There is also an extensive network of established partners the Global Field Support Program responsible for delivery of maintenance services in tightly controlled periods and within the highest quality guidelines specified in the service level agreement. Oxfam has access to an online portal, where personnel can get all the information they need about the link performance, subscribed services and track any in-progress issues.
Communications For Mining
African mining produces a significant amount of the worlds most important metals and minerals, and production may grow dramatically as much of the continent is still to be explored by the mining companies. Its estimated however that Africa hosts nearly a third of the worlds mineral reserves so its safe to say that the mining industry in Africa is vital to the economy and indeed welfare of the people. The mining industry may be at the opposite end of the spectrum of organisations working in Africa when considering Oxfam, but its communication requirements are the same.
Vizada Networks doesnt always directly attend to the mining industry in Africa. Instead, its partner since 2003, Spidersat Communications, is its link to this important market. According to Spidersat, the mining industry needs high quality data and voice circuits that are always on. This is the same requirement as the aid organisations, so Spidersats core offering to the mining industry is also based on WorldConnect, on which it offers a variety of different branded services that provide applications for wide area networks requiring voice, data, and Internet and multimedia services. Spidersats broadband service offers Tier 1 Internet backbone capacity to users anywhere in the world through the Vizada Networks C-band SCPC/DVB-S2 hub based in Norway.
The reality of planning and implementing a VSAT network for a mining site in sub-Saharan Africa is harsh. The mines and projects tend to be very remote so naturally, are nearly always in tough environments. Careful consideration must be given to the environmental issues in terms of temperatures, rainfall and electrical storm activity before a system is implemented. Another major problem faced when developing VSAT solutions for mining operations is the lack of good quality power, because most of the time in remote areas the only form of power is diesel generators. Providing power, be it through sourcing the generators, supplying battery powered solutions where the battery is charged by solar energy or fully autonomous systems that are completely solar powered is part of several of the turnkey solutions provided by Spidersat and based on the Vizada Networks foundation.
As the requirement of trustworthy, reliable communications are similar across all mining operations; there isnt much deviation from the core solution. Spidersat has installed over 100 VSAT systems based on WorldConnect across the continent and despite different requirements for value-added services such as security, VoIP or network management, they are majority based on a 2.4m antenna using SCPC/DVB-S2 broadband service. Users of these systems across 25 African countries include BHP Billiton and Barrick Gold Corporation for main operations, as well as small exploration projects where theres just one-half dozen people in the bush at the very start of a project that may not even take off.
The VSAT system will typically include the indoor and outdoor electronics and some kind of layer 7 bandwidth manager QoS device in addition to optional content management, AV and antispam solutions and also intrusion detection systems to make sure that the systems are secure. More often than not, carrier grade VoIP equipment is also supplied so that high quality telephone calls can be made from the site.
Communications For All
With the lack of terrestrial communications across the majority of Africa, satellite has had the lions share of the communications market for a long time. It offers the availability and quality of service that users require because it is not restricted by distance or environmental conditions. Although Africa, especially the East coast, has growing terrestrial connectivity, VSAT is and will be for a very long time the primary source of communications across the continent. Whether the job at hand is helping poor or oppressed people, or mining for valuable, vital minerals that help the world turn, VSAT is not only a necessity, but offers more in the way of reliability and functionality than fibre or terrestrial communications ever could in a continent as unique as Africa.