SALT bandwidth: Better late than never

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Internet and bandwidth connectivity for the R270 million Southern African Large Telescope (SALT) will arrive five years after it was expected, Parliament heard today.

Phil Charles, director of the South African Astronomical Observatory, told Parliament’s Science and Technology Committee that he was originally told to expect that the country would solve its bandwidth and international connectivity issues by the end of 2004, ITWeb reports.

“But this was not to be,” he said.

Charles explained how critical high-speed bandwidth is for SALT, which is located in the remote Northern Cape town of Sutherland.
“Scientists don’t come to SALT; their data comes to them,” he noted.

Charles said a new high-speed data link will be built by Telkom using its existing infrastructure to connect the Sutherland facility to the Cape Town-based South African Astronomical Observatory and then, via Seacom, to the rest of the world.

The link would be part of the South African National Research Network (Sanren), for which Telkom has been commissioned to build a nationwide network at a cost of R85 million.

The link between Sutherland and Cape Town will have a 155Mbps link and has been designed by the SALT researchers and the Sanren design team. The connection will be provided by Telkom on a long-term lease for five years, after which the requirements will be reassessed. The cost of the link is within the budgeted amount of R10 million for the SALT connection.

Charles stated the current link between Sutherland and Cape Town has a capacity of less than 1Mbps and that, hopefully, once this is upgraded, it will increase by up to 90 times this capacity.
“That is why currently data from observations is placed onto hard drives and then transported down to Cape Town from Sutherland. Once that stops – the dismounting of the hard drives – then I will know we have reached our desired bandwidth capacity.”

Charles said the international benchmark for scientific and research bandwidth requirements is around 40Gbps.

He added that, through the installation of digital doorways and a wireless mesh network, the local Sutherland High School and community will have access to the SALT Internet connection.
“This will also provide a gateway through the wider Internet network and, thereby, allow the community and business access to the Internet and other Web-based services. This will also enable entrepreneurs to establish Internet-based businesses.”

The members of the Science and Technology Committee continue today with questions and discussions around SALT’s progress.



Pic: SALT Telescope