Vodacom taps ST iDirect and Gilat for remote backhaul in DRC

Vodacom taps ST iDirect and Gilat for remote backhaul in DRC

Vodacom DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo) has commissioned ST Engineering iDirect and Gilat Telecom to help it migrate its VSAT-based 2G network to 3G.

To achieve this, ST Engineering iDirect and Gilat Telecom remotely installed two Newtec Dialog hubs to power cellular backhaul services for Vodacom. These hubs enabled the migration across 150 Base Transceiver Station (BTS) sites, with the Base Station Controller located in Kinshasa. The new deployment replaces traditional 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 accommodate Vodacom’s future growth, enabling increased satellite network coverage capable of delivering a large amount of capacity. 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. Access to these applications will have a profound impact on remote communities, enabling them to stay in touch with friends and family, and to market their businesses and connect to important sources of news and information. For many, these services have previously been unavailable.

The initial deployment commenced in April 2020, and was impacted by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic that has delayed the progress of satellite network installations across the world. With the teams based in Belgium and Kinshasa, the best way of progressing the project was to install the hubs remotely. 

“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,” said Jordan Dayan, System Engineer at Gilat Telecom. “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.”

Jean-Bedel Nyanga, Transmission Director, Vodacom DRC, said: "Thanks to [the Dialog platform’s] 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." 

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.”

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