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New Zealand’s Waihopai Station Upgrades; Dismantles Old Satellite Dishes

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With new ICT, Waihopai Station, a communication facility by New Zealand’s Government Communications Security Bureau is doing away with its old satellite dishes and radomes. This signals the advent of more powerful ICT technologies. As emerging technologies gain ground, Waihopai Station, a key communication facility by New Zealand’s intelligence agency – Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) – undergoes a major facelift.

Doing away with old technology is necessary and paves the way for modern infrastructure. Thus, work to remove the retired domes and antennae at Waihopai Station has begun. This has been confirmed by Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) Director-General Andrew Hampton.

The new technology will be used to gather data. To note, more modern and proportional methods collect more targeted communications. The modern forms of intelligence collection are now more effective and efficient at contributing to the Government’s National Security and Intelligence Priorities than this type of satellite communication interception undertaken at Waihopai.

Moreover, this is a reflection of an ever-evolving ICT. The way in which the GCSB works has evolved, and will continue to evolve, alongside changes in technology. In that light, the GCSB needs to continuously assess and update its capabilities to ensure they contribute to the fullest extent possible to the Government’s Priorities, as well as respond to rapidly evolving technology, and to the security threats, New Zealand faces.

ICT offers a lot of emerging technologies in intelligence gathering. There’s the practice of using Artificial Intelligence (AI) to come up with timely actionable insights. Then, there are also machine learning tools that can help analyse and transform massive datasets into intelligent data insights. Further, satellite technology has evolved. Earlier downloading pictures from satellites meant printing the data on paper and going over them meticulously. Today, downloading images can be done quickly and data patterns can be pieced together by software.

It’s been a good run for the satellite facilities. The first of the two 18-metre diameter dishes and radomes was constructed and began operating in 1989, with a second dish and radome added in 1998. As old as they may seem, they have served their purpose in gathering intelligence data.

The deconstruction project will involve the deflation and lifting off of the domes by crane, then the dismantling of the two steel antennae in sections. A week before, fencing around the domes was removed, and the first radome covering has been lifted off. If things go smoothly, the overall project is expected to take about six weeks to complete.

In November the GCSB announced the decision to retire and remove the iconic radomes and dishes after almost 35 years of service. Changes in global ICT technology meant the interception of satellite communications from Waihopai had declined over the years to the point where dish use had become virtually obsolete. The radomes had also reached their structural end-of-life and would have required significant investment were they to remain operational.

Once removed, the dish and dome materials will be safely disposed of. The steel will be scrapped. While the dishes and the radomes are no longer in use, the Waihopai station will continue to operate and support the GCSB’s ongoing national security activities.

New Zealand is aiming to cover all the bases when it comes to its bid as a digital nation. Just lately, it started work on a Central Bank Digital Currency (CBDC). That should be a big boost to the digital economy.

Yet, there are still a lot of things that needed to be done to make its digital transformation complete. The nation has funded an initiative to improve internet connectivity all over the country. Then, looking at its lack of digital workers, it’s starting to attract talent from outside the country to boost its digital workforce as reported on OpenGov Asia.

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