Salt in the wound?

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Telkom is asking R36 million, more than three times the budgeted figure, to complete the link between Sutherland and Cape Town for the Southern African Large Telescope (Salt), confirms science and technology minister Naledi Pandor.

In reply to questions from Democratic Alliance shadow deputy minister of science and technology Marian Shinn, Pandor said all parties involved in the Salt development had agreed to pay Telkom R10 million for a 155Mbps capacity line, over a 10-year period, ITWeb reports.

Pandor also said that, during the past year, members of the Meraka Institute, the South African National Research Network (Sanren) and the South African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) had been involved with discussions with Telkom regarding the link.

The link should connect the Salt facility in the Northern Cape town of Sutherland with the SAAO offices in the Cape Town suburb of Observatory. This system would be phased out as Sanren replaces it with a faster 1Gbps service in three to five years.

Currently, information gathered by Salt has to be cut onto compact disk and then physically transported to Cape Town before scientists from around the world are able to access the data and work on it. This lack of connectivity is seen as the major reason why SA may not be awarded the Square Kilometre Array telescope – a project considered the most prestigious in the international astronomical community.

However, Pandor points out in her reply that Telkom has gone back to its original asking price of R36 million to light the dark fibre link, and now the Meraka Institute is investigating alternatives for the short- to medium-term connectivity requirements.

The first option is the use of 4Mbps second lines, presently available on a monthly basis, until an alternative is available. This option will resolve the problem only over the very near-term of three to five months.

A second option is to continue to negotiate with Telkom for better rates on the 155Mbps line. “Meraka Institute can presently only afford R10 million,” Pandor said.

The third option is to send out a request for proposals to Neotel, Broadband Infraco and Telkom to provide a 1Gbps service to Salt.

“In conclusion, the issue is in negotiations between the various parties, including the parastatal entity Telkom. Such issues will be resolved before the Square Kilometre Array telescope site selection occurs,” Pandor said in her reply.



Shinn says: “It is good news to see that the door is being opened for other competing telecommunications operators. SA cannot afford to fail on connecting Salt, as this is a key test to ensure the country is able to cope with hosting the Square Kilometre Array telescope.”