Associate director for science and engineering at the square kilometre array (SKA) South Africa, Justin Jonas, called for gigabit per second (Gbps) backhaul connectivity in SA at SATNAC 2012, held in George.
Jonas was joking about how they included over 500 aanexures to their SKA bid that was supposed to be 150 pages, resulting in a 2 gigabyte proposal.
The submission of their bid by uploading it to an overseas server took really long, Jonas said.
Inside South Africa, SKA mainly uses state-owned Broadband Infraco for their backhaul needs, though they use other operators as well, Jonas said.
The SKA network, connecting an array of sensors, will carry more data than the entire current worldwide Internet volume, Jonas explained.
This network will include private fibre, commercial dark fibre, and commodity managed links.
Jonas highlighted that the SKA won’t just be the largest telescope in the world; it’s the biggest scientific instrument in the world.
South Africa’s excellent positioning that secured it the majority of the project was due to a very successful government plan that started in 1996, Jonas said.
African VLBI network
There are also plans to use Gbps links as part of an African very long baseline interferometry (VLBI) network.
Jonas related how they managed, with some political wrangling, to nearly continuously pump data from the radio telescope at Hartebeesthoek as part of the European VLBI network.
Calling it a data “fire hose”, Jonas showed graphs suggesting that they were able to maintain around the same data rates as other telescopes in the European VLBI network, which he said impressed them.
Looking at a map of Africa, Jonas showed that there was a major gap in telescopes between Southern Africa and Europe, which presented an opportunity to extend global VLBI capabilities and build an African VLBI network.
Thanks to the proliferation of optical fibre networks, Jonas said that there are big dishes (30m class antennas) that have become, or are becoming redundant.
These dishes can be converted into radio telescopes, Jonas explained, allowing the staff at those locations to be maintained.
A dish in Nkutunse, Ghana, that was donated by Vodafone, is already being revamped in this way, Jonas said.