Mayordomo is focused on technical issues that he feels can make a difference as to whether the peace is kept in Sierra Leone. He currently is figuring out the best ways to use:
Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) communications. While DPKO hasnt
embraced VoIP on a broad scale, Mayordomo can experiment with it within his
own mission. In fact, he thinks it might help solve some of the network congestion
complaints from Koidu. By installing a Cisco router capable of transmitting
phone calls like data, as Internet packets, rather than using a separate voice
communications channel, he hopes to reduce overall bandwidth consumption.
Wireless communications networks. Mayordomo thinks wireless can be a
key to U.N. rapid deployment since setup is so much faster than for a wired
network. He first used the technology after arriving in the Central African
Republic in 1998 to find the network in shambles. Cables between buildings were
hanging from tree branchesa typical case of technicians improvising a
quick setup and never going back to clean up their work. Instead of rewiring,
Mayordomo brought in Aironet wireless-networking equipment, back before Aironet
was acquired by Cisco.
Power protection. Tropical Africa is one of the most lightning-prone
areas in the world, subject to more than 200 days of lightning per year. Whether
from lightning or an erratic power grid, electrical surges frequently overwhelm
the grounding and protective devices the U.N. employs, damaging computer and
networking equipment. Mayordomo is looking for solutions. One possibility: dissipation-array
technology, which its developers claim can create an electromagnetic shield
Power protection, wireless communications, and VoIP are critical to the day-to-day
operations at Koidu. Today, in fact, Mayordomo wants to see first-hand how
DPKOs existing technology is holding up in the field.
Mayordomo is traveling to Koidu with two colleagues, Sivabalan Karuppiah and Ambrose Majongwe. Karuppiah, a contractor to the U.N. from Telecommunications Consultants India Ltd., is going to Koidu specifically to address wireless-networking problems. He boards the U.N. helicopter carrying a Panasonic Toughbook ruggedized laptop and a backpack containing a couple of spare Cisco Aironet units to use as a replacement for the malfunctioning wireless communications equipment at the base. Majongwe, a communications technician from Zimbabwe, boards the helicopter carrying a Cisco 3725 router like a suitcase. In addition to replacing a misbehaving router in Koidu, he hopes to put the VoIP capabilities of this one to the test. First, he has to defend it against the workers who want to pack it aboard as luggage. "No, I need to keep this with me," he says, settling into the last available seat, a fold-down contraption just inside the exit hatch. When the helicopter rotors work up to speed, conversation becomes impossible. Passengers don earmuffs. Mayordomo uses a set of earplugs, saved from a transatlantic flight. Majongwe takes a nap, putting his head down on the router balanced on his lap. Next Page: Oct. 29 at Eastern sector command in Koidu, Sierra Leone.
For peacekeeping, the ultimate test of any technology is how well it works on the ground. Mayordomo has made some use of VoIP at UNAMSILs Freetown headquarters, but putting it in Koidu and requiring it to work over satellite connections is a much more stringent test. And for all his enthusiasm about wireless networking, making it work through Africas tropical downpours and lightning storms is a challenge.