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ZTE looks to digitise SA's railways

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SA has an expansive railway network, but the technology being used in the country is old, says Yang Jun, ZTE Enterprise Business VP for international sales and marketing.
SA has an expansive railway network, but the technology being used in the country is old, says Yang Jun, ZTE Enterprise Business VP for international sales and marketing.

Chinese telecoms giant ZTE is planning to bring smart rail solutions to the South African market.

The plans, which were first announced in July, were confirmed by Yang Jun, ZTE Enterprise Business VP for international sales and marketing, last week in an interview with ITWeb.

According to Jun, ZTE, together with a number of its Chinese partners, will invest billions of rands to modernise SA's rail infrastructure.

Jun was in SA attending the Forum on China-Africa Co-Operation (FOCAC) Summit. Established in 2000, FOCAC aims to promote bilateral ties and co-operation between China and Africa through dialogue.

"ZTE and its partners are set to invest in the South African rail system. The bulk of the finance will be provided by different Chinese companies and ZTE will mostly be making its investment in the ICT part of the project," said Jun.

According to Jun, ZTE has not engaged the South African government on the deal, but it is reaching out through its local partners.

He revealed the company last week signed a contract with EOH to bring smart rail solutions to SA. "We co-operate with many local companies to deliver solutions. We have no intention to engage directly with the government, but we work behind our local partners to get the relationships with the South African government."

ZTE's iRail solution features include broadband communication, providing rail systems with broadband communication networks based on LTE for rail, and 100G optic network technologies. It also uses cloud computation architectures as rail transportation information platforms, integrating the existing applications, deploying virtual desktops, unified communication, and new applications.

In October, EOH announced the acquisition of Mehleketo, a local provider of rail automation and technology solutions, for an undisclosed amount. It is one of the top rail signalling and communications engineering and systems integration solutions providers in SA, and has a number of long-term projects as well as maintenance and support contracts with the major operators in the country.

SA has an expansive railway network, but the technology being used in the country is old, dating back maybe 25 years, Jun said.

"The speed of the trains is also very slow, the efficiency is low, and the system experiences a lot of problems. ZTE wants to deliver digital technology in SA's railways so that they become smart," he pointed out.

In China, Jun said, most railways have been developed into high-speed railways with speeds of more than 200 kilometres per hour. "We do not want to reach the same speeds in SA, but I think we can reach between 150km to 180km per hour."

There are a lot of Chinese telecoms companies entering the South African market and Jun said these companies, through the Chinese government's intervention, are working together in SA as in all the other foreign companies in which they operate. He pointed to China's Silk Road Initiative as the biggest factor binding these companies in foreign territories.

The Silk Road Initiative is the major project for Chinese president Xi Jinping. On every state visit and within every diplomatic forum, he has promoted his idea of: "One Belt, One Road". Beijing wants to create China-centred infrastructure networks in order to expand its own economic and political influence in Eurasia and Africa.

"That means we will co-operate with all the Chinese companies that are operating here, even if they are our competitors," Jun concluded.

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