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Jamaican engineering genius leads US team to make World Wide Web more global


A Jamaican is leading the technical team at an American satellite service company that will make the World Wide Web truly worldwide, by making connectivity possible from even the most remote parts of the world whether land, sea or air.

Dr Charles Anthony Barnett, a Cornwall College old boy, is flying the Jamaican flag as senior vice-president of engineering at Maryland-based Hughes Network Systems which is working with the “OneWeb” system to bring hitherto unseen broadband speeds to unserved and under-served communities.

Hughes Network, a wholly-owned subsidiary of EchoStar Corporation, described the OneWeb system as one of the most advanced and complex low earth orbit (LEO) satellite constellations.

“When complete, the OneWeb constellation of low earth orbit (LEO) satellites will offer high speed, low latency connectivity globally — over the water, in the air and across places that were previously unconnectable, such as the polar regions,” said Dr Barnett, who has been with Hughes for over 30 years.

Under a contract with OneWeb, Hughes is developing and producing the gateway electronics and the core modules which will be used in every terminal on the system. As OneWeb launches more satellites, Hughes conducts testing and verification of the gateways that are deployed,” Barnett explained.

“That requires ground segments, terminal segments, billing segments, all working together. Our job is to make sure it all works,” Hughes quoted Dr Barnett as saying in a press statement about the breakthrough.

The operation requires an elite team of Hughes engineers to track and sync satellites in real time and perform far more complex problem-solving than ever before. It is this team that Barnett heads.

Said Barnett: “Our team is like a start-up within our organisation. We have people who have developed specialised skills for this LEO system, who tested representative systems in the lab and who are dedicated to monitoring over-the-air testing in the field.

“…We’ve applied our know-how and capabilities to solve complex engineering challenges with simple solutions. While OneWeb is complex, it’s also efficient. This is the type of advanced and innovative engineering prowess required to meet the demands for connectivity everywhere.

Dr Barnett has broad technical backgrounds in wired and wireless terrestrial communication, and satellite communications, having spent close to 40 years in the research and development of switching and transmission systems.

That means working with terrestrial wireless mobile systems, Geostationary Satellite TDMA VSAT systems, narrow and wideband Mobile Satellite Communication Systems (Geostationary and Low Earth Orbit), and Ground-Based Beam Forming Systems.

He attended Cornwall College from September 1969-1974 and then the College of Arts Science and Technology now the University of Technology (UTech, Jamaica), graduating with honours in 1977. He spent three years lecturing in electrical engineering at CAST before going to study in the US in 1980.

Dr Barnett graduated from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor (computer engineering), and has a doctorate in electrical engineering (communication) from the University of Maryland, College Park.

He currently serves on the advisory boards of the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department at the University of Maryland, College Park; Institute of System Research, University of Maryland, College Park; and the University of Shady Grove (USG), University System of Maryland.

He was appointed vice-president of engineering at Hughes in 2003 and promoted to senior vice-president in 2017.

Hughes maintains that the novel coronavirus pandemic had underscored even more clearly how important connectivity is to the world, because “when everyone is isolating, the need for connectivity becomes even more critical”.

Hughes says is organisationally functioning at full capacity and has seen an increase in traffic in its networks due to people working and attending school remotely.

“Our network operations staff is working diligently to maintain the quality of service… Most of our staff are working from home, but they can access our customers’ facilities around the world and ensure that networks are running properly and effectively,” the company adds.

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