[IAEP] Fwd: [bytesforall_readers] A 50-Watt Cellular Network

Edward Cherlin echerlin at gmail.com
Sun Feb 14 16:18:38 EST 2010

FYI. Important for rural deployments.

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Fouad Bajwa <fouadbajwa at gmail.com>
Date: Sun, Feb 14, 2010 at 15:14
Subject: [bytesforall_readers] A 50-Watt Cellular Network
To: pakgrid <pakgrid at yahoogroups.com>, bytesforall_readers at yahoogroups.com

A special thank you note to my friend Katz for forwarding this message
to me that should be of great interest to TGP and the Research Grid.

A 50-Watt Cellular Network
Solar-powered base stations can link up remote rural areas.
By David Talbot | Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Art. Ref.:


An Indian telecom company is deploying simple cell phone base stations that
need as little as 50 watts of solar-provided power. It will soon announce plans
to sell the equipment in Africa, expanding cell phone access to new ranks of
rural villagers who live far from electricity supplies.

Over the past year, VNL, based in Haryana, India, has reengineered traditional
cellular base stations to create one that only requires between 50 and 120
watts of power, supplied by a solar-charged battery. The components can be
assembled and booted up by two people and mounted on a rooftop in six hours.

One such station--dubbed a "village station"--can handle hundreds of users.
Groups of such village stations feed signals to a required larger VNL base
station within five kilometers. In turn that larger station, which is also
solar-powered, relays signals to the main network. The village station can turn
a profit even if customers spend on average only $2 a month on the service,
instead of the $6 required to make traditional systems cost-effective, the
company says.

"We've scaled down the cost, the energy, and the equipment so that almost
anybody can deploy it," says Rajiv Mehrotra, VNL's CEO. "It lends itself to
many business models that can serve the bottom of the pyramid," a reference to
the roughly 1.5 billion rural people who do not have access to electricity
grids around the world.

To date, some 50 VNL base stations have been installed in the Indian state of
Rajasthan, introducing thousands of people to cell phone service for the first
time. An African rollout is imminent, the company says, without elaborating.
The initial batch of 50 stations supports only voice calls, not text or data, a
decision mainly based on the fact that many of the new users may not be able to
read or write.

Besides enabling basic communication, cell phones can provide enormous
financial opportunities for rural people, especially if those people adopt
services that provide banking and lending via cell phone. More than half of
India's 1.1 billion people lack any access to basic financial services, and
instead pay usurious rates to local loan sharks. Furthermore, while
microlending can lift people from poverty, only about 150 million people
worldwide use such services. Expanded cell networks, together with banking
programs geared to the rural poor, could change all of that.

The base station rollouts are "incredibly empowering for the world's remote and
low-income masses," says Valerie Rozycki, head of strategic initiatives at
mChek, a mobile-payment platform based in Bangalore that is unconnected with

Expanding cell networks in many rural areas comes down to the availability of
sufficient electricity to power base stations. Existing off-the-grid base
stations in India require expensive diesel generators. "The cost is substantial
enough to make many rural markets unprofitable and therefore unwired," says
Ethan Zuckerman, cofounder of Global Voices, an aggregator and promoter of
blogging worldwide. "Solutions that reduce the cost of building a base station
are helpful, and those that reduce the costs of powering a base station are

Russell Southwood, CEO of Balancing Act, a London-based telecom and Internet
consultancy focused on Africa, says low-energy, self-sufficient solutions will
be key to expanding cellular access further in the developing world. "Energy
costs are particularly high, as [base-station] sites often have two generators
and some have three months' supply of fuel," he says. "Anything that cuts fuel
costs is bound to be attractive to operators, and it's also a more sustainable,
green approach to communications."

But while VNL has optimized its unit for rural areas, it is not the only
company making low-cost, low-power base stations. "We are seeing a trend toward
commoditization" in the cellular industry, says Ray Raychaudhuri, director of
WinLab, a wireless research laboratory at Rutgers University. "Where it was
traditionally vertically integrated, you are seeing that break down into
something that looks more like a Wi-Fi architecture, where you can buy a box
and install it."

Article Links:

Rajiv Mehrotra, CEO, Haryana, India

Valerie Rozycki, mChek

Ethan Zuckerman, cofounder of Global Voices

Russell Southwood, CEO of Balancing Act:

Ray Raychaudhuri, director of WinLab

Copyright Technology Review 2010.

Fouad Bajwa
Internet Governance Advisor
ICT4D Social Practitioner & Researcher
Member Multistakeholder Advisory Group (IGF)
Member Civil Society Internet Governance Caucus (IGC)
My Blog: Internet's Governance: http://internetsgovernance.blogspot.com/
Follow my Tweets: http://twitter.com/fouadbajwa
MAG Interview: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ATVDW1tDZzA


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Edward Mokurai (默雷/धर्ममेघशब्दगर्ज/دھرممیگھشبدگر ج) Cherlin
Silent Thunder is my name, and Children are my nation.
The Cosmos is my dwelling place, the Truth my destination.

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