NUANCE – August 2008

Dr Nii Quaynor – “Africa’s Internet Evangelist”

The photo shows some great minds in deep consideration at the AAU AFREN Forum Meeting in Rabat, May 2008. In the middle is Dr Nii Quaynor. With a banner headline “Africa’s Internet Evangelist”, the prestigious British science journal, the New Scientist of 9th August 2008 (vol 199 no 2668, pp44-45) has a two page article on Dr Quaynor who is referred to as “Father of the Internet in Africa”. The article describes the career and achievements of Dr Quaynor, culminating last year in the prestigious Postel award. Comments Dr Quaynor: “I donated the US$20,000 honorarium that accompanied the award to help establish a fund called The Africa Fund for Capacity Building Research and Internet Development. This will support young Internet engineers with their education and research”.

Time limited opportunity – payment of fees to AfriNIC

UbuntuNet has got a time-limited opportunity to pay the one year fees to the African Internet Registry, AfriNIC, to enable each member NREN to acquire its autonomous system number as well as independent IP address space. In order to have existence in the international research and education networking community, each NREN must have its autonomous system number (ASN), and its independent IP address space. Possession of an ASN and independent address space will also enable NRENS to connect through the UbuntuNet router in London, via fibre or VSAT, to the international research and education community. Currently, TENET is connected to the router via fibre and KENET via VSAT.

To enable this, UbuntuNet is providing a time limited opportunity, for those NRENs that can submit their applications and have them processed by AfriNIC, to have their start-up and annual fees paid for one year. UbuntuNet is able to link those NRENS that need assistance in determining their needs to those who will be able to guide them so that the applications can be processed. To qualify for the time-limited support, which will also be given on a first come first served basis within the available funds, the Invoice from AfriNIC along with a copy of the application should be submitted to me not later than 30th September 2008.

Intensive Activity as MoRENet Establishes its Pilot Phase Network in Maputo City 

 By Jussi Hinkkanen
The importance of a national NREN was raised high in the priorities already in the national ICT Policy in 2000, but it took till 2006 to get the academic and research institutions as well as the government to forcefully start backing up the building of the Mozambique Research and Education Network – MoRENet. Based on a common vision the objective of MoRENet is providing support to strengthening of national human and institutional capacities and to accelerate socio-economic development of Mozambique by connecting national research and education institutions to global, regional and national knowledge resources and to strengthen institutional networks and partnerships between academia, research institutions and the private sector.

The MoRENet team conducted a detailed study of the current status amongst the potential members in 2007, which revealed that the national universities, research institutions and their respective staff members and students are predominantly excluded from the global knowledge society and academic and educational collaboration. These institutions did not have access to high speed and high quality connectivity services. Poor connectivity to other national institutions and limited access to Internet and academic networks was analyzed to have direct impact on the quality of education and ability to conduct high impact and quality research as well as to efficiently distribute and deploy the results and innovations of the National Science, Technology and Innovation System.

The study was followed by a detailed analysis of the technology landscape and the existing and potential solutions for solving the identified challenges. The objective was set to offer economically and institutionally sustainable high quality and high capacity services to all member institutions, public or private, independent of where they operate in Mozambique. This meant development of strategic partnerships and identification of innovative low cost technology solutions for keeping the costs down, without risking the quality of the services provided.

The developed technology architecture proposed a sequential model, where in the first phase MoRENet would establish the Network Operating Centre in Maputo City and would construct a high speed wireless network backbone and client links to member institutions. The backbone was designed so that it would be capable of supporting an additional 20-30 institutions while minimizing the costs of network expansion. The first phase institutions will pilot the use of both proprietary and open source routing solutions (Bifrost) ready to support latter technology upgrades. The following diagram shows the architecture of the wireless network with the actual throughput bandwidths.

The pilot phase network will experiment with the use of low-cost wireless technologies and will provide the necessary test bed, in a traffic intensive environment, for supporting the design and planning of provincial networks. The wireless network will in the second phase be partially replaced by a fiber ring, which will connect the bigger universities in Maputo, the capital city. The objective of MoRENet is to operate its own fiber and thus cut down the connectivity costs dramatically. The wireless network will continue functioning as a backup solution and be moved to the provincial level at a later stage. The mobility and range of wireless solutions, combined with high capacity fiber ring will ensure optimization of solutions for the member institutions (ranging from small research institutions of 20 staff members to universities of 20,000 people).

The first phase of the network is planned to be operational by mid-November 2008. The construction of the Network Operating Centre, wireless network, antenna towers as well as the preparation of member institutions is well under way. The pilot network will connect a total of 10 universities and research institutions as well as the national library in Maputo. The MoRENet network is ultimately designed to provide connectivity and a shared platform for services for a total of 60 institutions nationwide.

The major challenges related to successful operationalization of MoRENet are training and retention of staff members, and establishment of economically sustainable solutions for provincial connectivity to the Internet. All provincial capitals in Mozambique will be connected to a high speed fiber backbone by the end of 2008, and negotiations with the national tele-operator TDM are still under way for establishing a contractual framework acceptable to both parties.

The MoRENet team is currently finalizing the IP addressing proposal to be sent to AfriNic and the application to the national regulator for registering itself as a service provider during the coming weeks, establishing MoRENet officially as the national research and education network in Mozambique.

CTO Lilongwe Conference Showcases Technology Options for Remote Sites

The 3rd Annual CTO forum on Connecting Rural Communities in Africa took place in Lilongwe, Malawi from 26 – 28 August 2008. There were participants from almost all UbuntuNet Alliance member countries. The Ministers of ICT from Kenya, Sierra Leone and Malawi gave the deliberations special weight.

The proceedings covered mainly technologies for reaching remote areas. Two workshops were also held. The technology mix showcased and available for rural communities would be applicable for our NRENs to reach their most rural campuses. Participants were reminded that there are large amounts of funding available for well written technology proposals especially if linked to the Heath Sector or other Millennium Development Goals. UbuntuNet Alliance was represented by Margaret Ngwira and MAREN by Anthony Muyepa.

MAREN Builds a 150km Blantyre – Mangochi Wireless Link

By Anthony Muyepa

In line with the broader aim to establish a high-speed network linking medical, research and education institutions in Malawi, the Malawi Research and Education Network (MAREN) has achieved what would probably be the first of its kind: – a major breakthrough in wireless communications in Malawi using wireless technologies. Linking Blantyre, Zomba and Mangochi research and educational institutions in Southern Malawi is a 150km 20Mbps link which has been finally installed and assumes the longest MAREN interconnection so far. The link to Mangochi was installed between 25th July 2008 and 12th August 2008 and it interconnects the University of Malawi’s College of Medicine (CoM) and its Mangochi Campus including hospitals and research institutions in the cities of Blantyre, Zomba and Mangochi.

Through collaboration with different partners, a team of 6 international experts from the Abdus Salam International Centre for Theoretical Physics – ICTP (Italy) worked with the MAREN Team members and shared their knowledge and experiences on the installation. ICTP funded various equipment for the wireless network. The project was a smart partnership receiving funding from CoM- Dutch funds, EDCTP project, the Regional Government of Regione Friuli Venezia Giulia (Italy) and the Abdus Salam International Centre for Theoretical Physics – ICTP (Italy). The project was led by the University of Malawi College of Medicine ICT directorate and the Malawi Polytechnic in collaboration with MAREN, the umbrella body.

The link will facilitate collaboration between the medical research and education centers in Malawi using innovative technologies and services such as video conferencing, voice over IP (VoIP), collaborative research, tele-medicine, internet and email. The link will also provide a backbone for future connectivity to referral, district and Christian Health Association of Malawi (CHAM) hospitals.

The EDCTP project led by Dr. V. Mwapasa will probably be the first to benefit from the network. In the EDCPT project, data will be collected in Mangochi and sent over the network to Blantyre. Without the link, hard copy forms would have to be sent by road to the data processing department in Blantyre. Similarly email and Internet services will be offered to the CoM researchers, staff and students in Mangochi. The link will further facilitate research, teaching and learning through video conferencing (to enable students in Mangochi to take their classes from the main campus) and enhance communication and administration. Apart from this link, there is no connectivity whatsoever between these sites. When students are in Mangochi, they do not have access to teaching and learning resources from the main campus until they return.

The network has utilized communication towers owned by Malawi Telecommunications Limited (MTL) on which antennas have been mounted. The link has one relay at Zomba Mountain Peak, from where it goes straight to Mangochi.

In trying to fulfill its objectives, MAREN has institutions with several research arms and departments in various parts of the country including Mangochi. It is essential that high levels of collaboration between these centres be maintained so as to facilitate the core objectives of teaching and learning. MAREN believes that such levels of collaboration can be achieved through the use of innovative applications and services available through Information and Communication Technology (ICT).

Operating a Licensed Network

The Malawi Communications and Regulatory Authority (MACRA) granted MAREN an International Gateway Licence: permission to install and operate a non-profit academic research and tertiary educational network. This has been the stepping stone for building research and education networks in Malawi and across borders. This has been ratified by Government.

WiFi Technology

Malawi Research and Education Network MAREN through collaboration with the International Center for Theoretic physics ICTP has witnessed a major breakthrough in harnessing the power of wifi technologies. 802.11 WiFi technology has commonly been used for creating wireless networks for short distant connections. With careful planning and proper antennas, WiFi equipment can be used to make long distance point-to-point links spanning tens of kilometers.

The critical component in using WiFI for long distance communications is identifying a clear line of sight which is an unobstructed. With the terrain in Malawi, use of towers owned by the telecommunications companies was necessary.

The possible high elevation area between Blantyre and Mangochi with low grounds in between was not difficult to identify. Malawi is country with mountains that seem to be strategically positioned for communication networks. Mpingwe and Ndirande offered a natural and well suited mountains with existing towers, while Zomba mountain offered the relay point en route to Mangochi. Mangochi lies in the lift valley with Lake Malawi and has vast areas of flat land to Zomba.

For more information please contact Anthony Muyepa, ICT Director, College of Medicine, Mobile: +265 8 538 596

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