SKA broadband centre opens in PE

2015-03-27 09:02 - Duncan Alfreds
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Radio astronomers in SA will use the SKA to map the universe. (Duncan Alfreds, Fin24)

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Cape Town - A new broadband centre intended to support the work of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) has been opened at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) in Port Elizabeth.

Science and Technology Minister Naledi Pandor welcomed the centre, saying that it was critical to developing broadband solutions in line with national policy to drive universal access.

"The centre is strongly aligned with the DST's ICT research and development and human capacity development objectives. It is also aligned with the National Broadband Policy for South Africa, which aims to ensure universal access to reliable, affordable and secure broadband infrastructure and services by 2020, and to stimulate sustainable uptake and usage," Pandor said.

Broadband is a key challenge for the massive science project that will be built outside Carnarvon in the Northern Cape province and the Australian outback.

Around 3 000 radio telescopes will scan the universe, producing a flood of data that scientists have to be able to process as far away as the UK.

SA broadband policy

The SKA precursor instrument the MeerKAT (Karoo Array Telescope) will consist of 64 linked radio telescopes, far lower than the SKA at around 3 000.

The MeerKAT will process around 343 000GB of data per day (one DVD per second), while the SKA will generate more data per day than the entire internet when it comes online in 2024.

Key to the instrument is the ability to transport and process data without impacting on its integrity.

"As a leader in optical communication research, NMMU is delighted to be partnering with the DST and Cisco on the SKA project, toward networking with the stars," said Professor Tim Gibbon, who will head the university's new Centre for Broadband Communication.

High speed internet is a critical economic driver. (Duncan Alfreds, Fin24)

Broadband policy in SA is robust in terms of its road-map to connecting the population with high speed internet services capable of delivering rich media content and changing the way people interact with the web.

According to the Cisco Visual Networking Index Global Mobile Data Traffic Forecast for 2014 - 2019, SA will see an 11-fold increase in data growth that will fundamentally transform South African society.

"The remarkable uptake and adoption of mobile devices will be a key contributor to the country’s transformation, impacting industries like education, healthcare and government services therefore reaching all aspects of the society," said Vernon Thaver, chief technology officer at Cisco Systems South Africa.

Focus areas

The centre will focus on key areas of both broadband and the astronomical instrument.

Cisco will lend engineers and scientists to focus on next-generation dense wavelength division multiplexed (DWDM) systems research. This technology is fundamental to fibre broadband communication and will allow researchers to maximise the data transport from the SKA.

NMMU will focus on developing fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) for SA in line with the South Africa Connect: Creating Opportunities, Ensuring Inclusion South Africa's Broadband Policy.

The university will also train MSc and PhD students and as part of the SKA SA Human Capital Programme in order to ensure skilled South Africans to work on the SKA, due for completion in 2024.

As far as outgoing SKA SA director Dr Bernie Fanaroff is concerned, building human capacity is one of the most important aspects of the radio astronomy project.

"I encourage other ICT companies to explore further research collaboration opportunities with the outstanding young people we have in South Africa. South Africa can and should play a major role in the new global industry of big data. Investments like this, by global ICT players, help to place us in a good position to do so," said Fanaroff.

Watch Bernie Fanaroff talk about Nobel Prizes that will be won as a result of work on the SKA in SA:

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Read more about: cisco  |  naledi pandor  |  ska  |  broadband

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