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Monrovia-University of Liberia Fiber Optic Infrastructure Project (MUFOI)


Indiana University and the University of Liberia propose to join with the Liberian Ministry of Education (LMOE) and Liberian Telecomunications Co. (LibTelCo) in establishing Liberia's first fiber optic national backbone-The Monrovia/University of Liberia Fiber Optic Infrastructure Project (MUFOI). The LMOE,, LibTelCo and the University of Liberia would leverage their partnership with Indiana University to provide a donation of $450,000-$550,000 worth of optronics and fiber necessary to establish a 32-40 kilometer, low-latency fiber optic data network composed of up to 96 strands. The proposed network footprint would encompass the Fendell campus, Monrovia's government center and institutions in the downtown area (including UL's downtown and medical campuses, Stella Maris Polytechnic and other tertiary educational institutions), the JFK Memorial Hospital, UL's Fendell campus and any public, private or civil society organization, business and residences within three kilometers either side of the proposed line. To give a sense of scale, the proposed MUFOI capacity available to LibTelCo through a high-strand network would be capable of carrying the combined network traffic from all sources for the States of Indiana, Ohio, and Illinois (a population in excess of nearly 30 million).

The MUFOI would have the dual goals of (a) establishing an initial fiber optic backbone accessible to the Greater Monrovia Area that would address the economic and social objectives of Liberia's National Telecommunications Policy, and (b) improving the instructional capacity of tertiary education in Liberia and its ability to meet the goals of Liberia's Poverty Reduction Strategy. With LibTelCo's assistance, the proposed MUFOI-initially established as a data network--would provide an underlying IT foundation and avenue for connection to IT Services by all institutions within its footprint. Passive Optical Network equipment as proposed in the Greater Monrovia Fiber Optic Ring Feasibility Study (GMFOR) in early 2009 (designed for cable TV and media heavy content) could subsequently be added to the backbone. And, from a technical standpoint, there are no obstacles to extending the proposed line from Monrovia outwards as additional funding for an expanded network becomes available.

The multi-purpose, multi-user line envisioned in the MUFOI proposal would thus obviate the need for multiple fiber networks and would serve as the foundation of a comprehensive national backbone that would benefit the entire nation. The MUFOI proposal also addresses a key component of the National ICT Policy-local sustainability. By providing the capacity for both optimized data and passive optical network traffic to co-exist on the same line, the MUFOI reaches a broader set of public and private sector interests than either a Passive Optical Network or a Data Network would alone.

Indiana University (IU) would donate high-quality switches and routers for the data system, and leverage its relationships with national fiber optic networks in the US to obtain donated (or heavily discounted) fiber and additional electrical components from Cisco Systems, Level 3, Inc., Quest, Inc. and other IU technology partners. This would substantially reduce the total cost of the project and make it more attractive to the World Bank to support on a grant basis (as opposed to a loan). IU's ability to leverage its partnerships for these donations is dependent on the project in Liberia having a direct benefit to tertiary education in the country-especially UL but also Stella Maris, the Ministry of Education, teacher education programs and K-12 institutions in the area. Assuming that this condition can be met, however, IU can assist in bringing a substantial cost sharing component to a project that would also benefit LibTelCo, the Greater Monrovia Area and a wide range of for-profit and non-profit enterprises including K-12 and teacher education programs in the area. Determining the total cost of establishing the MUFOI is necessarily dependent upon the prior completion of a technical/cost study for the proposed technology and routing of the network.

LibTelCo would play a key role in the establishment, operation and maintenance of this network. In addition, the Ministry of Education, LibTelCo, Indiana University and the University of Liberia would work together in developing the networks' technical specifications. Since UL and other tertiary institutions within the footprint would require no more than two strand pairs (four strands) on this network for national research and education functions, the remaining capacity (e.g., up to 92 strands), would provide the foundation for a national IT infrastructure. This would constitute valuable internet "real estate" for LibTelCo and the Government of Liberia, as a wholesaler, to market to non-profit and commercial enterprises in the Monrovia area. In return for leveraging its relationship with Indiana University to obtain donated hardware and fiber, UL would seek an agreement with LibTelCo to provide access to bandwidth for the University of Liberia at no more than LibTelCo's wholesale cost. Such an agreement would enable IU to secure the support of its higher education consortium partners for the donation of the equipment.

Network Design Issues

The USTDA-funded Greater Monrovia Fiber Optic Ring Feasibility (GMFOR) released earlier this year proposed the establishment of a 24-strand fiber network within the Greater Monrovia Area (but excluding coverage to the Fendell campus). The proposed GMFOR network would deploy Passive Optical Network (PON) technology in which the download capacity is approximately five times greater than the upload capacity. In this type of network, it is assumed that there will be little active exchange of content between the supplier and the end user. Rather, networks using PON technology are designed for applications in which bandwidth-intensive media content is downloaded and consumed by end users who have no need for uploading equal quantities of content. PON networks are thus optimized for cable TV operators, subscription internet services (especially where heavy web surfing, movie downloads and online games are a major part of the market), and some VOIP applications.

The GMFOR proposal differs in significant ways from MUFOI. First, the GMFOR study did not contemplate extending the fiber optic cable beyond the immediate Monrovia area and its system of conduits, and thus, would not serve the Fendell campus which will become home to nearly 15,000 students in 2010. The MUFOI proposal extends the line approximately 17 kilometers beyond the GMFR footprint to add the Fendell campus and the rural areas between it and downtown Monrovia.

In addition, on a PON network, end users who need roughly equal amounts of upload and download capability pay for download capability that they seldom, if ever, use. For these users, a more cost-effective technology is a Data network that provides equal amounts of upload and download bandwidth to end users. Data networks are primarily designed for end users who are both supplying content for upload and consuming similar amounts of information (via download). Private companies and government offices that communicate with counterparts elsewhere, e-business operations, call centers, banks, NGOs, software developers, research institutes, medical facilities and especially educational institutions are actively exchanging content with others and need the roughly equal upload and download capabilities provided by a data network.

For Liberia, the ideal network would have sufficient capacity to serve BOTH types of traffic (Data and PON) on a single line without either system interfering with the other. This could be achieved by taking strand-pairs from the data network and connecting them to PON equipment through the data transponders that Indiana University would provide. Because of its large capacity, the MUFOI would have sufficient capacity to serve as a two-tiered network carrying both PON and data traffic.

With a basic data architecture and fiber donated by Indiana University and already installed on a high-capacity backbone through Monrovia, the incremental cost of adding a PON network to this line would be substantially reduced as compared to the cost of building a standalone PON.


Greater Monrovia Area

Capacity constraints and the high cost of bandwidth present a significant economic development hurdle for enterprises in the Greater Monrovia Area. An MUFOI would contribute directly to the Government of Liberia's National Telecommunications Policy and Strategy. While linking UL's three campuses, the MUFOI would traverse much of greater downtown Monrovia and include Liberia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Presidential Mansion, the Parliament and the Supreme Court. At minimal additional cost, the fiber optic cable could be extended past the UL downtown campus and the government center to Broad Street, the Ministries of Health and Education and beyond. The proposed route would give easy access to health clinics, banks, research centers, internet cafes, telecom and cable-TV operators, many educational institutions (e.g. Stella Maris Polytechnic), and other enterprises that are located in central Monrovia.

University of Liberia Teaching/Learning Environment and IT Infrastructure
A fiber optic network is also essential the educational mission and development of the University of Liberia. In such fields as health services, food security, rule of law, local governance, and business entrepreneurship, UL is currently ill-equipped to contribute to workforce training for the Liberian government's Poverty Reduction Strategy (PRS). Modern Information technology infrastructure will be a necessary tool in overcoming obstacles to improved teaching and learning at UL and in rebuilding the educational resources of the university.

UL is now refurbishing its rural, Fendell campus with the goal of re-opening there in October of 2010. When completed, these efforts will restore basic functionality to the buildings and substantially increase classroom and laboratory space for UL's students. However, the time involved in rebuilding UL's faculty expertise and replacing lost teaching and learning resources will take many more years and a great deal of additional external funding. This process can be substantially shortened through the development of a fiber optic network that links the UL administration, law, science and medical teaching venues; and provides access, across the university to electronic resources on the world-wide internet.

For example, with additional external funding, the MULFOI could also include a Liberian National eScience Library with hundreds of thousands of open source documents, references, textbooks, journal articles, and K-12 curricular materials and available via the network to any government office, school, teacher training institute or enterprise within the footprint of the network. The staff of the Liberian National Archives have already expressed interest in such a possibility. A resource such as this is essential to improving K-16 and professional education, but is only possibly with the establishment of a fiber-optic, national research and education network.

Access to the World Wide Web

Unfortunately, the cost of bandwidth to all end users in the Greater Monrovia area, including the University of Liberia, is hampered by the high cost of satellite-based, internet bandwidth that ranges from $5,000 to $12,000 per megabit per month. This makes internet connectivity prohibitively costly for most enterprises. A partial solution to the connectivity problem can be achieved by pooling bandwidth over the proposed MUFOI. Pooled bandwidth can be distributed more efficiently over a fiber network as compared to multiple individual, up-down links via satellite. In addition, consistent reports indicate that the WACS submarine cable now being installed along the coast of West Africa will make a landing. If so, the added competition for bandwidth market should reduce the cost of bandwidth to end users. If the bandwidth efficiencies offered by a fiber optic network can also be combined with a reduction in the cost of bandwidth for the University of Liberia, the access of UL faculty, staff and students to digital resources would be dramatically improved.

Indiana University

Founded in 1820, Indiana University (IU) has grown to an enrollment of 94,000 students on eight campuses with more than 5,000 faculty. The university has been recognized by several national publications as a leader in high-speed networking and IT applications for higher education. Through a Memorandum of Understanding established between the two universities in 2006, IU is committed to helping UL rebuild its programs. Partnerships between IU and UL are already underway in the fields of law, land tenure, and the life sciences.

The IU Global Research Network Operations Center (GRNOC) offers an unusual opportunity to assist in developing IT infrastructure in Monrovia and on the University of Liberia campuses. GRNOC operates and manages several major US and international high-speed data networks including the Internet2 and National LambdaRail Inc. (both high-speed research networks in the US), AMPATH NOC (links between networks in Latin American and North America), and TransPac2 (a high-speed international Internet service connecting research and education networks in the Asia-Pacific region to those in the US). Collectively, these and other networks managed by GRNOC entail 26,000 miles of fiber and carry approximately 10% of the world's internet traffic.

As a result of collaboration with networks such as National LambdaRail, Inc. (NLR), GRNOC has close relationships with nationwide fiber providers including Level 3, Inc. and Quest, Inc., and equipment manufacturers such as Cisco Systems and Hewlett Packard. As a part of its responsibilities for NLR, GRNOC replaces all hardware in the system every two years with the latest, most advanced electronic equipment. This results in excess state-of-the-art equipment available for donation to the MUFOI network project. Similarly, Level 3, Inc. and other fiber providers have unsold fiber that is for which there is no longer a market. As a higher education partner with the Ministry of Education, LibTelCo and UL, GRNOC can obtain this fiber either at no cost or for pennies on the dollar.

The MUFOI project would therefore enable development across all economic sectors within its footprint, facilitate the development of e-Government and e-Commerce, bring down bandwidth costs and enable residents of the Greater Monrovia Area to become more competitive and in touch with global trends. To achieve this, the partners (Ministyr of Education, LibTelCo, IU and UL) propose a two-phase project: (a) a design and cost study, and (b) the subsequent installation by local contractors of the MUFOI line.

Phase One: Design and Cost Study

To take place in late summer or early fall, 2009, LibTelCo and Indiana University would conduct a design and cost study involving detailed mapping of the route for the MUFOI, indentifying technical requirements for its installation, trenching, connections and power requirements, and making detailed cost estimates for installation (labor, shipping, technical assistance), bandwidth, intranets, and training.

The feasibility study would also address cost-sharing donations of fiber and hardware (routers and switches) for the fiber-optic backbone, computers and intra-net gear, as well as software for the intranets. While the donation of the fiber and hardware required for the project by the National Lambda Rail consortium constitutes the major portion of the equipment needed for the project, donations of additional required equipment may also be possible. This would be facilitated by the completion of the technical/cost study and a commitment of support for the project by the Ministyr of Education, LibTelCo and the World Bank.

The estimated cost of Phase One would be between $60,000 to 70,000.

Phase TWO: MUFOI Project

Assuming a satisfactory review of the results of the technical/cost study in Phase One, we propose to use existing fiber conduit, where possible, to connect via fiber optics key institutions in the Greater Monrovia Area and the three University of Liberia sites. Establishing this wide-area-network will involve four components: fiber installation, core optronics, interface electronics, and training/maintenance. The actual costs of Phase Two cannot be determined until the technical/cost study proposed in Phase One can be completed. However, the general design and preliminary estimates of the costs are outlined below. These are based upon US retail costs adjusted for the typical discounting practices of US suppliers for higher education and taking into account a guesstimate of Liberian labor costs (est. 40% of U.S. labor costs).

Fiber Installation

Fiber can be installed in one of three ways: bored, trenched, or hung. Boring is a tunnel system used in densely populated urban environments in which there is a complicated system of utilities already underground or in environments in which there are large obstacles such as interstates. It is the most expensive option available. Trenching is typically used on long rural fiber runs. A long ditch is dug, the fiber is laid in the ditch and then the fiber is buried. In the US trenching costs about $10/ft, about 80% of which is labor and 20% is the cost of the fiber. Hanging fiber is used where utility poles are available, or when fiber needs to cross an area that is bridged. The fiber is strung between poles much like electrical and telephone cables. It is the most inexpensive option available if the pole infrastructure is already in place and as long as physical security is not an issue.

For the MUFOI we propose using the existing Monrovia conduit system for high-count strand fiber run between key government installations in the Greater Monrovia Area and the University of Liberia's downtown and Medical campuses and JFK hospital. We also propose using the existing fiber conduit system for as long as possible from the Medical School/JFK complex to the Fendell campus, and then trenching the rest of the way to the Fendell campus and installing a fiber system along that route also. A possible 32 kilometer line between the Fendell campus and the UL downtown campus follows existing roads where right-of-way may already exist for this type of installation.

The cost of a US build for an MUFOI of this length is listed below, and assumes a 100% trenched system.

US "Retail" Cost of Installed Fiber w/o Discounts or Donations

A&Z Points Kilometers Feet US Fiber Cost US Labor Cost
UL-JFK 3.3 10,827 $27,067 $81,202
JFK-Fendell 29 69,049 $172,622 $517,867

The existing fiber conduit system within the Greater Monrovia Area will greatly reduce these costs, as will lower labor rates in Liberia. The fiber price cited above, for example, is inclusive of the conduit within which the fiber is buried. Donated SMF-28 fiber could possibly further reduce the costs noted above. The estimates provided at the end of this section, however, assume that unsold fiber will be obtained for the project at 25% of retail cost.

Optronics are the class of equipment used to light fiber optics and put them in to use. They are bridge between the electrical domain of building and campus networking and the optical domain of metro and regional networking.

For this design we propose utilizing existing Cisco 15454 80-channel tunable 10gig transponders, along with the required support chassis. This will allow key enterprises in Monrovia and the University of Liberia campuses to optically link with the network. A minimal design would require a 4 Transponders, 1 at the downtown campus, 2 at the Medical school, and 1 in Fendell, along with three chassis, one at each location. The transponders would cost $220,000 from Cisco Systems; however these parts would be donated to the project by the National LambdaRail (NLR) research & education network in the US. The chassis will run $12,500 each, for a total of $37,500, list. Cisco discounts from 40%-60% for the research and education community, so we can expect this to run $16,000-$22,000 and should we be unable to obtain a donation from Cisco Systems.

In addition, the transponder at the UL Downtown campus can easily be used as a node to link to the nearby government center with short fiber connections to key buildings. This would permit adding links to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Presidential Mansion, the Legislature, and the Supreme Court. In addition, the main optical line also could be extended an additional 6-10 kilometers down Broad Street to include the Ministries of Health and Education and destinations beyond. If the line is extended beyond the UL downtown campus to Broadstreet and beyond, at least one and possibly more transponders would be required. In this circumstance, IU/NLR might be in a position to donate 1-2 additional transponders.

Interface Electronics
Devices will be needed at each site to interface key government institutions and the three campus networks to the optronics. This equipment will bridge the gap between the campus and government networks and the 10 gigabit long-haul fiber system. A typical system from Hewlett-Packard will cost about $8,000, list, for the downtown and Fendell campuses, and $12,000 for Medical School campus. HP typically discounts around 40% for R&E institutions, resulting is a cost of around $12,000 should the project not obtain a donation from HP.

The estimate cited above for the MUFOI is predicated upon assumptions about (a) which items can be obtained by donation and/or at discounted costs from vendors for the purposes of the project, (b) assumptions that labor costs in Liberia will be approximately 40% of those in the US, and how far beyond the UL downtown campus the line is extended. One key unknown to be explore in Phase One is whether there are sufficient poles available to extend the fiber optic line from the Monrovia area to the Fendell campus, or whether that portion of the route would have to be trenched. The estimate above assumes that this major portion of the line would have to be trenched. However, if the trenching to the Fendell campus proves unnecessary due to the availability of existing poles, the total cost of Phase Two could be substantially reduced.

Given these assumptions and parameters, the estimated cost of Phase Two would be in the range to $320,000 to $450,000 in addition to a cost-share contribution of $450,000 to $550,000 from Indiana University and its NLR consortium partners. The addition of 4-8 kilometers of fiber optic line to other areas of Monrovia would increase this cost somewhat. The establishment of a MUFOI would be in direct support of the goals of the Government of Liberia's National Telecommunications and Policy Strategy, of the human resource development goals of the Poverty Reduction Strategy, and of the plans for the international donor community to employ ICT strategies in stimulating the economic growth and social development of Liberia.

The Ministry of Education, LibTelCo, Indiana University and the University of Liberia propose to establish Liberia's first national fiber optic network (MUFOI). This network would have the dual benefits of (a) establishing an initial fiber optic backbone for Greater Monrovia that would address the economic and social objectives of Liberia's National Telecommunications Policy and (b) supporting the educational mission of the University of Liberia and its ability to meet the goals of Liberia's Poverty Reduction Strategy. To accomplish this, the partners propose a two-phase project:

(a) a design/cost study to detail key elements necessary for the construction of a wide-area-network linking the Greater Monrovia Area and the three campuses of UL to include cost estimates and identification of stakeholders;

(b) establish a state-of-the-art fiber-optic network with sufficient capacity to serve the needs the Government of Liberia, the University of Liberia and tertiary education in the Monrovia area, and the private sector in Monrovia; Indiana University would donate all of the routers and switches required for the MUFOI and secure donated or discounted fiber and other electronic components.