SANDF training area gets wired

By Leon Engelbrecht, ITWeb senior writer
Johannesburg, 17 Oct 2007

Communication Solutions (Comsol) and Dimension Data have implemented a data and VOIP wireless connectivity solution at the SA National Defence Force`s (SANDF) Mobilisation Centre, at De Brug, near Bloemfontein.

The contract is worth about R1.7 million, say the companies.

Before wireless connectivity, the SANDF`s Centre for Conflict Simulation (Consim), which conducts mission-readiness training at the centre, conducted leadership and command exercises indoors, with participants communicating over a traditional telephone system.

Cables physically ran from one point to another and all exercise participants were in close proximity to each other, which substantially undermined realism.

Comsol CEO Iain Stevenson says the military had an urgent need to find a way to detach units from headquarters to add realism to the exercise, as would be the case during deployment. Simulating an environment out in the open field was the only option.

Get real

Saab Systems SA head of systems and support Sumanth Singh says getting realism right in simulated environments is vital: "With the simulation of training exercises, realism plays a big role," he says. "We wanted to create a training environment representing the conditions as experienced during deployments in Africa."

Saab Systems SA (previously known as CyberSim) manages and maintains the technology underlying Consim with DiData.

"In order to manage and facilitate this [training], Saab Systems SA utilises its constructive war simulation system, known as BattleTek, as well as other supporting software and systems," adds Singh.

"We have been working with DiData since 1997," he says. "They have been primarily involved in all our networks. Discussions regarding wireless communications have been ongoing for a few years now and DiData, with Comsol, has helped us to put a solution on the table."

At the start of the project, DiData and Comsol conducted a wireless site survey of the area, which informed the installation of a 100Mbps "backbone" link and radio frequency (RF) coverage from two base station sites.

Setting up

RF path profiles and coverage prediction models were used to accurately do the bandwidth and system availability planning. During this phase, high sites were identified for the accurate placement of the base stations. "The findings of the assessment determined how we architected the broadband access network with VOIP ability," says Gerhard Smit, solutions architect at DiData.

DiData`s first step was to install a 30m mast at the Mobility Centre. An existing mast was used at the second base station. A 7km 100Mbps full duplex radio link connects these two masts.

"To ensure seamless coverage over the hilly terrain, 120 degree sector antennas were installed on both masts, forming overlapping areas of coverage. This meant the mobile tripods with their integrated antennas could be located anywhere in the area of deployment." says Smit.

DiData installed a Mitell IP Telephony Server that connects with Proxim access points (AP) deployed at the headquarters, and to "unit" sites deployed at the training ground.

"Essentially, communication is established with headquarters when the 'units` in the field connect their Spectralink i640 phones (WiFi IP telephony) and notebooks via the AP," says Smit.

With this technology installed, units can now be deployed to any location on the training site.

Saab Systems SA is now also investigating other training locations where it could run similar exercises independently. "Our ultimate goal is to interlink all existing training areas in South Africa," says Singh.

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