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How Google, MTN others connect in N3b UNN wireless network project

By  Prince Osuagwu
The University of Nigeria Nsukka may soon become a reference point among many other universities in Nigeria, when the benefits of ICT in schools are highlighted.

•Wireless network

This is as leading global players in Information and Communications Technology, are collaborating with the University to build Africa’s largest wireless network community, expected to gulp a whopping N3billion naira.

The project would be ready for use by August 2010 and expectedly, the Lions and Lionesses as the alumni of this institution are fondly called, would be boasting to high heavens how their alma mater and one of the frontline  premier institutions in Nigeria, keeps blazing the trail even in digital learning. The joke has always emanated from UNN graduates that “there are only two universities in Nigeria; UNN and others”

Hi-Tech, gathered that leading the pack of global ICT players to the UNN project, is Google Inc, world renowned Search engine and other ICT platform that has revolutionalised the way information is gathered and disseminated worldwide.
Google is said to have committed to provide a minimum 25megabytes per second (mbps) of international Internet bandwidth to the university over an initial three-year period, as well as also contributing US$40 000 for the last mile/local loop costs, and another US$15 000 for consultancy and training to ensure optimal utilisation of the IT services. The company would also made available its email and collaboration tools and guidance to them.

Google’s Office Lead, English Speaking West Africa, Mr. Nyimbi Odero, said last week that the UNN project is the first in the Google University Access programme for Africa, adding that “we are happy to be part of this epoch-making and standard setting activity.

At the end of this project, the University of Nigeria would have the largest wireless network in Africa. This is important because for too long Africa has lagged behind in the new global system unleashed by Information and Communication Technology.”

Also, telecommunications operator, MTN Nigeria would lay the fibre optic cables to connect the three campuses of the University at Nsukka, Enugu and Ituku Ozalla, as well as provide microwave uplink to the Aba campus as a strategic social responsibility project.

Vanguard gathered that Governor Sullivan Chime of Enugu State has already granted Right of Way to MTN for the laying of the cables.

Other contributors to the UNN Wireless Infrastructure Network project are Hewlett Packard, HP, and Cisco Systems as well as the project contractors, Business Connexion of South Africa. This is even as the network infrastructure would be provided by Xirrus Inc of USA and Wavion Technologies of Israel.

HP is providing switches, servers and storage equipment at highly discounted education rates while also providing manpower support for training. Cisco Systems  would also assist the University  with training in Cisco certification as well as developing the capacity of students and staff for entrepreneurship through the establishment of a model incubator company.

An elated UNN Vice Chancellor, Prof Bartho Okolo however, called for further support from companies, governments and individuals to realise the N3b massive infrastructure project, saying that “it is one of the major milestones in the quest to make the University of Nigeria a global centre of learning.”

He pointed out that the 40 000 student population of the university spread across four campuses as well as the staff component numbering also in thousands, are part of the opportunities for firms interested in the potentially huge market, to market their computer hardware and software as well as laptops, desktops, scanners, printers among other products.

For Okolo, “we envisage that the Internet infrastructure would be fully in place in the next three months. Access would then be a critical issue for the over 40 000 student population of the University in addition to academic and non-academic staff in their thousands. They represent an opportunity in market terms as well as for implementation of focused and impactful Corporate Social Responsibility programmes.”

The ambitious wireless infrastructure project envisages a comprehensive, ubiquitous, always-on, wired and wireless network that covers the entire geography of the four campuses of the university. It would involve a hybrid implementation of a fibre optic backhaul, an extensive structured cabling to all major buildings for teaching, laboratory work, administration, student, staff residences and WiFI for the last metre.”

It will offer Internet connectivity of 1-4mbps per 1000 students and staff, and have a central storage area network of at least 10-400 Terabytes on which students and faculty can store data.

Project coordinator and Director of the Innovation Centre, UNN, Dr. Christian Bolu, added that a packet based voice service, Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), use of open source software for teaching and learning in several key subjects, provision of laptop charging bays as well as hardware repair centre and use of dedicated power supply are some of the features the University would be known to provide as the project flags off full operations.

UNN says its ICT strategy programme aims at transforming near term economic participants, including staff and students into fully fledged members of the digital economy that would be fully equipped with competencies, attitudes and information management skills that will reduce the learning curve as students enter the job market.

The project is also targeted at facilitating private enterprise both in the Information Technology sector and others, as well as creating the opportunity for the emergence of near term global outsourcing.


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