iDirect and Gilat Telecom Network Installation to Connect Communities in the DRC

Press Release from ST Engineering iDirect

Successful installation of two Dialog Hubs in Kinshasa for 3G services upgrade by Vodacom amidst pandemic challenges

ST Engineering iDirect and Gilat Telecom teams have successfully remotely installed and commissioned two Newtec Dialog hubs. The hubs power cellular backhaul services for mobile network operator Vodacom in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The new hubs enabled Vodacom to migrate its VSAT-based 2G network to 3G 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. This is because it enables the network to adjust in real-time with daily fluctuations in bandwidth demand automatically. This saves both bandwidth and cost and offers better optimisation of cellular traffic. Furthermore, Dialog also enables effective management of a variety of different modems all on the same platform. This consequently simplifies and streamlines an otherwise complex operation.

In addition, the Dialog platform will accommodate Vodacom’s future growth. The network is primarily for cellular backhaul services. It is also for applications like social media, video sharing platforms, enterprise applications such as video conferencing and data transfer applications, with some sites offering IP services. Access to these applications will have a profound impact on remote communities. This is because it will enable them to stay in touch with friends and family. Also, it will help them market their businesses and connect to important sources of news and information. For many, these services were previously unavailable.

The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic impacted the deployment, which began in April 2020. This has consequently delayed the progress of satellite network installations across the world. For the project’s progress, the teams, based in Belgium and Kinshasa, turned to remote installation of the hubs.

According to Jordan Dayan, “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”. Jordan Dayan is a System Engineer at Gilat Telecom. Gilat Telecom also shared detailed images to ensure that iDirect’s team completed every step. According to Jordan, this close collaboration and 24-hour access to each dedicated team enabled them install the two hubs in three days. 

Jean-Bedel Nyanga, Transmission Director, Vodacom DRC opined that they were already enjoying the benefits of deploying the Dialog platform. “Thanks to its Mx-DMA return technology”, he said, “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, he added, enabled them to operate more efficiently and make substantial cost savings.

“This is a fantastic example of how collaboration among teams can overcome challenges and make a project happen. I am incredibly proud of what has been achieved with Gilat Telecom under such adverse circumstances,” said Pieter-Paul Mooijman, Regional Vice President, Africa at ST Engineering iDirect. “We are always prepared to give our best to support our partners and customers in their endeavours and enable their success.”

Vodacom instantly reaped the results of the hub installations with a rapid upgrade of the cellular backhaul network. The network 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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