Transnet, Vodacom, and Eskom were among the big companies that made presentations during the first round of public hearing on the Karoo Central Astronomy Advantage Area(KAAA). The regulations aim to protect the declared KAAA in the Northern Cape from radio interference.
The Minister of Science and Technology published a notice calling for public hearings in terms of the AAA Act in the Government Gazette on 20 August 2016. The hearings allow interested or affected parties to make oral presentations or objections to the Minister.
The Department of Science and Technology (DST) is constructing the world’s large radio telescope, the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) in the region. One of the most important requirements of the project, is to ensure that no radio frequency interferes with the activities of the telescope.
On Thursday 13 October, companies operating in the Karoo Central in the Northern Cape, presented their perspectives on the KAAA. The companies expressed a willingness to assist Government in setting alternative communication systems.
Transnet’s Chief Engineer, Andrew Matseke said the company recognized the significant benefit of the SKA to the country, citing foreign direct investment and socio-economic benefits of the project to the people of the Northern Cape. “We are willing to consider frequency migration to accommodate the regulations. We view the SKA as a project of strategic national interest,” said Matseke.
Mr Matseke said necessary steps had already been taken to minimize the impact on radio frequency activity in the area. These include the migration from analogue UHF network to digital radio, that is spectrum efficient, and antennae turned away from the core site.
The Department of Communication has prioritized Carnarvon, to switch off the analogue signals to digital in towns located near the SKA.
Vodacom South Africa’s Naomi Mansvelt said the company would collaborate further with the SKA to find solutions within the constrains. “We are not competing for profits in the area because there are very few people, all we need is to work together to ensure that our people do not experience connection challenges.”
During the Eskom presentation, the power utility proposed that the regulations be effective three years from the date of publication instead of one year as stipulated. “If implemented immediately it will have a negative impact on our operation and will be costly,” said Mr Charles van der Walt, from Eskom.
Mr Van der Walt also proposed that the DST provide funding for infrastructure changes that Eskom would be required to implement. Eskom also supported the SKA’s plan to implement trunked radio systems (unlike a conventional radio which assigns users a certain frequency, a trunk system takes a number of frequencies allocated to the system. The control channel coordinates the system so talk groups can share these frequencies) as an alternative means of communication.
The next round of public hearings will take place in Carnarvon in the Northern Cape on 20 October.