Laos goes wireless with LongReach

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North Ryde company LongReach Wireless has partnered two Laotian companies to deploy point-to-point digital microwave across 300 square kilometres of steaming, mountainous jungle in southern Laos.

North Ryde company LongReach Wireless has partnered two Laotian companies to deploy point-to-point digital microwave across 300 square kilometres of steaming, mountainous jungle in southern Laos.

Glenn Zerafa, director of marketing and sales at LongReach Wireless, said the company was working with Laotian/Australian consultancy Bluegrass and Lao Telecom to build basic telecommunications infrastructure for the Pakxe region close to the Thai border.

“It's very technically-propelled. The area is mountainous and jungly, with lots of rivers and very wet seasons and dry seasons and at certain times it's very inhospitable,” he said.

Once, the weather was so wet that an elephant had to be hired to transport workers across a river, Zerafa said.

Laos had a main trunk network or 'thick pipe' and off that, LongReach, with its “eyes and ears on the ground”, nine staff from Vientiane-based partner Bluegrass, was helping Lao Telecom build secondary wireless links or 'thin pipes'. The thin pipes would comprise a digital microwave radio backbone covering about 300 square kilometres, he said.

“Basically, the system consists of a number of sites which include towers and buildings, antennae and microwave radio equipment and fit-out, and upgrading a number of their existing sites to handle more capacity,” he said.

Zerafa said LongReach was supplying about $500,000 worth of its long range LR series microwave radios as part of the deal. The microwave links were being added in three 'hops' totalling about 100 km slated for completion in February.

Some 40 hops had already been completed, he said.
 
“We took over from AWA-Plessey in November 2001,” Zerafa said. “The gestation of this thing would be about three or four years before that. AWA-Plessey started putting in their first hops in about March 2000.”

LongReach Wireless is a division of LongReach Telecommunications, a wholly-owned subsidiary of ASX-listed electronics manufacturer LongReach Group. LongReach Group was originally part of AWA -- an Australian telecommunications and broadcasting company dating back to 1913. AWA merged with South African company Plessey in 1996.

Zerafa said the company's microwave links were especially suitable for countries whose climates made conventional telecommunications deployment impractical or expensive.

LongReach's radio gear was solar-powered as the area had no electricity, he said.

“Yet they need to maintain power when it rains and there's no sun. The equipment will run without sunshine for six to eight days -- that's probably the most difficult part of the project,” Zerafa said.

He said LongReach Wireless had done similar work across less-developed countries, including Sri Lanka, the Philippines, China, Indonesia and Oman.

“We have also done quite a bit of market research in the Middle East,” Zerafa said.

Laos Telecom is a joint venture between Thai conglomerate Shinawatra International and the communist Laos government. The country has about 0.37 telephone lines for every hundred people and a population of around 5.9 million. It has been reported that the Laos Telecom project aims to add 20,000 lines in two years, establishing sales and service across the whole nation.

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