The Republic of Congo's Department of Post and Telecommunications has signed a deal with a South African consortium to provide satellite-based Internet services and a voice over Internet Protocol (VOIP) platform – the first such services in the country.

The consortium comprises telecommunications group Intercel Online Africa and black economic empowerment group Brooks African Investments. Intercel VP Leon Labuschagne says the contract, estimated at R380 million over five years, will focus on providing a combination of satellite and wireless network connectivity to the country's 64 Post Office sites.

“We have secured a deal where we provide a holistic service for the government, taking into consideration technical aspects, logistical problems and human development,” says Labuschagne.

He explains that the project, named Postnet, entails an IP solution that will modernise the country's mostly-manual banking system, which is run by the Post Office.“This is a poor country, which does not have a sophisticated banking system and people deal mostly in cash. Through this project, we will provide Internet connectivity to the Post Office to establish Internet cafes and provide VOIP services,” Labuschagne says.

As there are no terrestrial links in the country, Intercel will provide satellite connectivity through its teleport in Long Island, New York, with WiMax outer links within larger cities like Brazzaville.However, Labuschagne adds, many logistical challenges remain, as the central African country has poor road infrastructure and inadequate electricity supply.“We, therefore, will have to look at the civil engineering component and human development aspect as well. It's important to consider the more remote sites in the country and whether it will be possible to get power generators and diesel supplies out to them, or whether a solar panel will have to be put in place.“In terms of human development, we will have to develop skills and train people who will operate the system, as this is the first time that Internet links will be established in the cities.”

Labuschagne says the consortium will launch a feasibility study in January, while simultaneously starting work on two pilot sites. The study is expected to be completed over two months, before roll-out of the project is set to begin.

He adds that the project's scope could widen, as various organisations, such as schools, have also expressed interest in obtaining Internet connectivity. This, however, would most likely be hammered out with individual government departments in future.

“This is a perfect example of how South African-based know-how can assist in the development of the continent, by leapfrogging existing technologies and providing a service that is extremely cost-effective,” says Labuschagne. “Intercel will be responsible for all technical aspects of the service, the design and implementation of the satellite and wireless IP network, and all logistical aspects of the service, including the training and development of the personnel. The networking will be handled by CommsCo, the ISP services by XSINet, and Pointeq will supply the PCs. Brooks African Investments will be responsible for project management and power supplies.”


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