The strategic alliance between global information and communications technology (ICT) giant Huawei and JSE-listed ICT group Altech announced last year is already beginning to pay dividends, according to Tim Ellis, executive director of the Altech group.
Ellis says Altech and Huawei have jointly secured a significant contract with the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA) to provide digital signalling network technology for South Africa’s major metropolitan areas, including Gauteng, Durban and Cape Town.
In essence the technology controls the movement of trains to ensure that they operate efficiently while improving passenger safety.
“This technology will give management ‘eyes’ on the rail tracks, allowing them to monitor the movement of their trains … to determine when it’s safe to proceed, and when to stop,” says Ellis.
Traditionally, this type of information was collated through the deployment of expensive fibre-optic cables or copper wire running the length of the entire rail network. Theft of copper wire along rail networks, which provides the backbone of vital communication between rail controllers, has in the past resulted in disaster.
Ellis says the technology that Huawei – lead partner in the joint venture – and Altech will provide eliminates this risk. The GSM-Rail (GSM-R) technology will be wireless and will eliminate the risk of “down time” caused by interruptions to the communications infrastructure.
“This will be the first time that GSM-R technology will be deployed in Southern Africa,” says Ellis, adding that it is already widely used in Europe and in other industrialised nations.
“The project will result in significant new job creation, skills transfer and new learnerships. Ellis says the deployment of the GSM-R technology is one leg of the recently announced PRASA infrastructure development plan.
“The project will also benefit several small, medium and micro enterprises,” he adds.