Murray & Roberts MEI and Vodacom have developed a mobile 3G unit "broadband hub" to keep remote areas of South Africa connected. The development is expected to transform operations and applications within the local construction and IT industries.
One of the biggest challenges facing construction companies is circumventing the problems associated with working on remote building sites, such as limited communication access.
While many remote areas lack cellphone coverage, others still have no fixed-line telephone networks either, presenting something of a communication blind spot. This makes building in such areas both time-consuming and frustrating.
Murray & Roberts MEI is all too aware of this challenge and the necessity for staff to have continuous access to information when working on site. To address the issue, the company approached Vodacom for a solution.
“Being able to access information is no longer a ‘nice to have’ – all our staff need to have connectivity on site in order to be able to communicate with and update clients, and send through drawings and other important documents, especially when it comes to our overseas clients,” says Simon Mordecai-Jones, MD of Murray & Roberts MEI.
“The efficiency of the process needed to be improved upon, but with limited landline infrastructure in place, the only way we could do this was through establishing cellular network coverage.”
Vodacom conceptualised an entirely new business solution that makes almost immediate cellphone coverage available on site, in any area, via its mobile 3G unit.
The initial mobile base unit or ‘broadband hub’ was established at Umkomaas on the KwaZulu Natal south coast.
“Vodacom typically provides GPRS/EDGE data services outside of the metro areas, and hence with the rural location of the Sappi Saiccor plant at Umkomaas, the maximum bandwidth possible was only 180 Kbps,” explains Pieter Uys, chief operating officer of the Vodacom Group.
"This throughput was insufficient for the Oracle-based application used by Murray & Roberts and therefore the 3G and HSDPA-based solution in the area was considered.”
The practicality of the broadband hub means it can be left at one site or moved to another.
“The Vodacom 3G and HSDPA-based solution is capable of delivering throughput speeds of up to 1,8Mbps on the downlink and 384 Kbps on the uplink, which was more than adequate for the Murray & Roberts MEI application,” says Uys.
“Due to the short timescales, the broadband hub was deployed at Sappi Saiccor, including a temporary self-provisioned backhaul. Murray & Roberts MEI could successfully operate their systems from this site using the broadband hub.”
Mordecai-Jones adds that with its understanding of the immediate needs of companies operating within the construction sector, Vodacom was able to establish the new system in less than two weeks.