Alex H. Hills
Distinguished Service Professor
Engineering and Public Policy
Carnegie Mellon University
5000 Forbes Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15213 USA
Education, higher; Research, academic; Other
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Alex Hills is Distinguished Service Professor at Carnegie Mellon University where he is affiliated with the Department of Engineering and Public Policy and the Information Networking Institute. Previously, he was Executive Director of the University of Alaska Computer Network. He has worked actively with the University of Alaska in its efforts to build relationships with the Russian Academy of Sciences and other organizations in the Russian Far East. Dr. Hills supervised activation of the new telecommunications link to Magadan.
Dr. Hills holds a B.S. in electrical engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, an M.S. in electrical engineering from Arizona State University, and a Ph.D. in engineering and public policy from Carnegie Mellon University. He is a Senior Member of the IEEE and serves on the Board of Directors of the Anchorage Telephone Utility.
Establishing an Email Link from Alaska to the Russian Far East
With the advent of glastnost and perestroika in the 1980s, the University of Alaska began efforts to stimulate academic cooperation with Russian institutions. Collaborative research projects involving University of Alaska scientists and their counterparts in the Russian Academy of Sciences were started. Student and faculty exchange programs were initiated, and there was talk about establishing “Arktika,” a joint Russian-American research center to be located in Magadan, Russia. Arktika was seen as a facility to be used by researchers from any country to study health, biological, geophysical, and other problems of the north. Arktika would provide office space and support services (including telecommunications) needed by the scientists to carry out their work in the Russian Far East. At the same time, plans were also being made for the International Pedagogical University, also to be located in Magadan. The new university, an outgrowth of Magadan’s Pedagogical Institute, was to be a teaching institution for students and faculty from the nations of Asia and North America.
Inadequate telecommunications services initially slowed our progress. Telephone calls were literally routed around the world, switched in Anchorage, Pittsburgh, and Moscow before being sent through Siberia to the Far East. Inadequate trunking into Russia and other limitations in the Russian telephone network made it very unlikely that a telephone call would actually be completed.
In mid-1990 Alascom and the University began to plan a satellite-based telecommunications link between the University of Alaska Fairbanks and the institutes located in Magadan. A satellite-based connection would be possible, we thought, because Alascom’s new Aurora II satellite, has a coverage area which extends well into the Magadan region.
Following detailed discussions and negotiations between the University of Alaska, Alascom, the Russian Academy of Sciences, and Rossvyazinform (the telecommunications carrier in Russia’s Magadan region), arrangements were made to test a satellite link between Alascom’s Eagle River earth station and a Russian earth station located at Kapran, near the Russian village of Omsukchan, about 400 kilometers northeast of Magadan. A Russian antenna and American electronics were to used at the Kapran earth station. Microwave was to be used for the tail circuits between Fairbanks and Eagle River and between Magadan and Kapran. Thus, the circuit was routed from Fairbanks to Eagle River by microwave, to Kapran via the Aurora II satellite, and to Magadan by microwave.
The circuit was installed and became operational for test purposes in August 1992. It went into service in July 1993. It is used for telephone and email service to three research institutes and the new International Pedagogical University. Personal computers at these locations are used with modems to connect to the University of Alaska Computer Network, part of NorthWestNet, for the exchange of email. Connections are also possible, through the Internet, to the rest of the United States and the world.
The availability of the new telephone and email service has made a remarkable difference in the success of the University’s research and education collaborations with Russian institutions in Magadan. The email service is particularly useful because communication between Alaska and Magadan must span five time zones and cross the international dateline. With email, it is not necessary that the sender and receiver of messages be “online” at the same time. The service is used extensively by University of Alaska faculty and their Magadan colleagues and the joint Alaskan-Russian collaborations have become far more numerous and more successful.
The University of Alaska is also working to use the satellite circuit to establish a gateway between the Internet in the United States and RELCOM, a Russian email system. Such a gateway would provide an email link available to any user of RELCOM or the Internet. While there is presently a link between the two networks through Europe, the new connection would provide improved service for Internet users in the Western U.S. and RELCOM users in the Russian Far East. Both the National Science Foundation and NorthWestNet (one of the networks comprising the Internet) have given permission for such a connection. Appropriate approvals must be secured in Russia before the new link up can be made.