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26.10.2005 Feature Article

Optical Fibre Communications: A Potential Worth Exploring

Optical Fibre Communications: A Potential Worth Exploring
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A GNA Feature by Hilda Abban

Cape Coast, Oct. 26, GNA - The importance of technological advancement for the development of all countries, particularly a developing country like Ghana, must be obvious. It is said that the developed countries, are already light years ahead of the so-called third world countries in this aspect.

It is in this regard, that it has become imperative for developing countries and especially those on the African Continent, to make use of every available resource to advance in all fields of scientific and technological endeavour to improve upon the socio-economic well being of their peoples.

Effective and easily accessible means of communication are, therefore, important to bring citizens abreast with all issues pertaining to the development of their economies to engender the requisite support for the desired socio-economic growth.

One such system of communication, that experts stress the nation needs to explore and support, is Optical Fibre Communication, a system, which has longer transmission distances, than the current and common means of communication - radio and microwaves - and can be used to immensely expand the telecommunications sector in the country. Optical Fibre Communication, is a means of transmitting information in the form of light energy or laser, through a glass -fibre, for speech, video, images or data, and according to Professor Paul Buah-Bassuah, former coordinator of the Laser and Fibre Optics Centre (LAFOC) of the University of Cape Coast (UCC), which trains post-graduate students in the use of this technology, it has an immense advantage over the use of radio or microwaves, which he said have transmission limitations, since voice and data transmission need larger bandwidths, whereas the "capacity for Optical Fibre transmission is limitless, and does not encounter frequency saturation.

He said fibre-glass cables which are obtained from sand and silica, can also withstand both low and high temperatures and reach distances of more than 100 kilometres, without using 'repeaters', as with the other communication systems where the signals need to be boosted at every 50 kilometres.

According to Prof Buah-Bassuah, currently in the country, Ghana Telecom and TV3, have seen the potential in this system of communication, and are using it to enhance their operations, through pylons of the Volta River Authority (VRA).

He was optimistic that the communication sector in the country could be boosted, if optical fibre communication was extended for use in all urban centres, so that the use of radio as a communication system would be primarily centred in the rural communities.

It is in the light of the importance of this technology, that LAFOC and the VRA, in collaboration with the International Centre for Science and Technology (ICS), in Italy and United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO) recently organised an 'International Training Course on Fibre Optics for Optical Communication' at the UCC. The ICS and the International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP) also in Italy, and the Institute of Physical Science Programmes (IPPS) of the University of Uppsala, Sweden, have been the sole supporters of LAFOC, which they helped to set up in 1993.

The objective of this international workshop, which brought together scientists, engineers, students and professionals from countries like Italy, Ghana, Iran, Nigeria, Lesotho and Kenya, was "to share common ideas and discuss new developments in the Optical Fibre Communications Industry".

It was also, to promote effective collaboration with industries in research and development in fibre optics.

In his address to underscore the importance of the industry, the Deputy Minister of Communications, Dr Benjamin Aggrey Ntim suggested the establishment of a "general consortium" to effectively tap the potential of this technology for the nation's communication and industrial growth. He asked the country's entrepreneurs to use the technology, which is already available at the VRA, to help to expand the communication sector in the country.

He similarly, called on the universities to expand training in communication to enhance proper dissemination of information for the benefit of the country, stressing that "the time was now ripe, to translate the theory into practice, to see the practical need of the industry".

According to the Deputy Minister, the knowledge of ICT was a basic right for all citizens just like shelter and that in line with the nation's developmental aspirations, it was also imperative to ensure that educational institutions designed their curricula to reflect modern trends in ICT, and that it was in the light of this that the government planned to develop the Ghana Telecom training school into a Telecommunications University.

He tasked the participants to take the training course seriously and to address issues that could enhance the industry. "We need to see how we can produce components for this sector. This should be an avenue of initiating effective collaboration between various organisations here present in the Sub-Region", he declared.


At the workshop, Prof. Buah-Bassuah, urged the government to provide funding to support LAFOC's activities, such as the provision of equipment and devices for monitoring the quality of signals, encoding and decoding, and detection of faults. He expressed concern that companies that could ultimately benefit from the use of this technology, had failed to send their representatives to the workshop, because as he put it, "they did not see the need to promote such ventures in the country".

He described LAFOC as a unique project, which the Government should help to develop; adding that until the country actually participated in the development of the new trends in technology, it would be difficult to be abreast with the technological advancement the country was yearning for.

"We need to invest in it now, and encourage our young ones. Technology is developed from the fundamentals and our own people. Indians have done it and so have the Chinese, what about the Africans? He queried.

He stressed that under the NEPAD initiative, LAFOC, was part of the African Laser Centre of Excellence in the West African Region and there was, therefore, the need for Ghana to water it to germinate the seed that was sown 10 years ago by the ICTP, ICS and IPPS. As with the adage in Ga "that too much fish in a soup does not spoil it", it is important to explore all possibilities and resources that would enhance the development of the nation and of the Continent as a whole.

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