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Vodacom taps ST iDirect and Gilat for remote backhaul in DRC

The new hubs will enable Vodacom to migrate its VSAT-based 2G network to 3G across 150 base transceiver station sites, with the base station controller located in Kinshasa.

Gilat Telecom and ST Engineering iDirect have deployed a cellular backhaul network in the Democratic Republic of Congo for Vodacom. The companies installed two Newtec Dialog hubs to power cellular backhaul services. The network is used primarily for cellular backhaul services, for applications such as social media, video sharing platforms, as well as enterprise applications such as video conferencing and data transfer applications, with some sites also offering IP services.

The new hubs will enable Vodacom to migrate its VSAT-based 2G network to 3G across 150 base transceiver station sites, with the base station controller located in Kinshasa. The new deployment replaces traditional Single Channel Per Carrier (SCPC) links and increases efficiency in facilitating 3G data traffic.

Dialog’s Mx-DMA return technology was a key consideration in Vodacom’s selection as it enables the network to automatically adjust in real-time with daily fluctuations in bandwidth demand, saving both bandwidth and cost and offering enhanced optimisation of cellular traffic. Dialog also enables effective management of a variety of different modems all on the same platform, simplifying and streamlining an otherwise complex operation.

The Dialog platform will also accommodate Vodacom’s future growth, enabling increased satellite network coverage and to deliver a large amount of capacity when it is ready to expand

The deployment, which commenced in April 2020, was impacted by the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic which has delayed the progress of satellite network installations across the world. To allow the project to progress, the teams, which were based in Belgium and Kinshasa, turned to remote installation of the hubs.

Commenting on the development, Jordan Dayan, System Engineer at Gilat Telecom, said: “To expedite the project, we were in constant contact with the ST Engineering iDirect team in Belgium. We also installed a camera in the Teleport in Kinshasa so that they were able to see what was happening, and shared detailed images to ensure that every step was completed correctly. It was this close collaboration and access to each dedicated team member at all hours of the day that enabled us to complete the installation of the first hub in two days and the second in just one day. It was a great team effort and I thank every one of the engineers that were involved.”

Vodacom was able to instantly reap the results of the hub installations with a rapid upgrade of the cellular backhaul network which is now serving customers across the DRC. “In the past, an upgrade to 3G would have taken one or two weeks,” Jordan continued. “The difference with Dialog, in comparison with traditional SCPC networks, is that this can be achieved very rapidly, in one or two hours. This makes a huge difference.”

Jean-Bedel Nyanga, Transmission Director, Vodacom DRC, added: “We are already enjoying the benefits of the deployment of the Dialog platform. Thanks to its Mx-DMA return technology, the reliability of the VSAT links has increased significantly, especially in heavy rain. As a consequence, we have also seen an increase in user traffic on the links migrated to Dialog. Additionally, in comparison with SCPC links, we have also noticed that Dialog enables us to perform network changes much more easily and rapidly, with less human resources and no intervention on remote sites. This has enabled us to operate more efficiently and make substantial cost savings.”

Pieter-Paul Mooijman, Regional Vice President, Africa at ST Engineering iDirect, stated: “This is a fantastic example of how collaboration among teams can overcome challenges and make a project happen. I am incredibly proud of what has been achieved with Gilat Telecom under such adverse circumstances. We are always prepared to give our best to support our partners and customers in their endeavours and enable their success.”