New broadband communication centre opened at NMMU

MARCH 26, 2015

The Minister of Science and Technology, Naledi Pandor, welcomed the launch of the new Centre for Broadband Communication at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) in Port Elizabeth today. 

The centre will conduct pioneering research around optical fibre data transport for the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) radio telescope.

The centre is the result of a partnership involving the Department of Science and Technology (DST), Cisco, NMMU, the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and the SKA.  

It will focus on research for next-generation optical fibre data transport systems, for application in the SKA and other projects. 

Cisco, a world leader in information technology, will provide the centre with R50 million-worth of equipment, sponsorship for contemporary, industry-relevant research topics, and access to key expert resources. 

NMMU has South Africa's leading research expertise in the area of broadband optical fibre communication.  

The university is currently a full member of the international Signal and Data Transport Consortium designing the SKA telescope.

The partnership is expected to support SKA SA in work with the international SKA Organisation to fulfill the design and specification elements of the SKA's high-volume data transfer methodology, among other things, while helping to produce world-class facilities, research and high-end academic skills in next-generation networking in South Africa.

Minister Pandor said the broadband centre would play a critical role in undertaking appropriate research to provide broadband technology solutions to South Africa.

With over 10 years' experience as a leading broadband optical fibre research group in South Africa, NMMU is ideally suited to host the new broadband communication centre.

"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," said the Minister.

"The CSIR pursues an integrated response to national initiatives and strategic collaboration with government departments, state-owned enterprises, academia and the private sector, said Hina Patel, Executive Director of the CSIR Meraka Institute.

"Broadband is identified as an enabler in the National Development Plan, and is therefore one of the priority clusters in government's ICT Research, Development and Innovation Strategy. The strategy is built upon a vision of a South Africa that has overcome the 'digital divide' by leveraging ICTs to address socio-economic challenges, thus creating a digital advantage."

Senior Vice President Operations at Cisco, Randy Pond, said the partnership was a groundbreaking initiative in an era in which the "Internet of Everything" was driving new approaches and significant technological change.

Cisco is a worldwide leader in networking, whose vision is to use the Internet of Everything to help others seize opportunities to connect the previously unconnected and impact significantly whenever human and technological networks combine to solve a problem.

"Cisco has been leading technology and business transitions globally for 30 years now, and our investment in the SKA project demonstrates our commitment to supporting a world-class research project in South Africa that is destined to drive broadband development and digitisation, and to revolutionise science and technology, not only for South Africa and the African continent, but on a global scale," said Mr Pond.

Outgoing SKA Director, Dr Bernie Fanaroff, said that the partnership, catalysed by the challenges of the huge data rates and data volumes required for the SKA, was exactly the sort of high-level research collaboration South Africa needed.

"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.

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

The centre will focus on the following:

1.1.           Cisco next-generation dense wavelength division multiplexed (DWDM) systems research: Cisco has expressed strong commitment towards supporting the initiative and developing focused research on next-generation DWDM systems.  Cisco is also willing to support the centre by providing access to its leading scientists and engineers, and by contributing state-of-the-art optical networking gear to NMMU.

1.2.           MeerKAT and the SKA: NMMU is playing a key role in the MeerKAT and SKA projects, by providing technical solutions (such as the distribution of the signal synchronisation and timing tones over optical fibre) and training MSc and PhD students.  There is also the possibility of ramping up NMMU participation in the SKA SA Human Capital Programme, including the training of MSc and PhD students, and providing further skills and qualifications for SKA SA staff.

1.3.           Broadband and fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) for South Africa:  NMMU has an interest in developing novel FTTH and broadband solutions for Africa.  Next-generation FTTH technology is aggressively being developed and deployed in Europe, Asia and in the USA.  This work is part of a new project "Fibre-to-the-Hut: Researching Novel FTTH Solutions for Africa", launched by NMMU.  From the South African commercial perspective, telecommunications companies such as Telkom have begun deploying FTTH in a select number of residential suburbs around South Africa.

1.4.           Human capital development: The centre will create value by adopting strategies to promote skills development, new knowledge generation and transfer, and outreach and awareness creation.