The GSM Association, Ericsson and multinational telecommunications group MTN have teamed up to establish biofuels as an alternative source of power for wireless networks in the developing world. The three organizations have set up a pioneering project in Nigeria to demonstrate the potential of biofuels to replace diesel as a source of power for mobile base stations located beyond the reach of the electricity grid.
Biodiesel has several important advantages over conventional diesel as a power source for base stations. Biodiesel can be produced locally, creating employment in rural areas, while reducing the need for transportation, related logistics and security. Biodiesel has a much lower impact on the environment than conventional diesel. The cleaner burning fuel results in fewer site visits and also extends the life of the base station generator, reducing operators' costs.
"The early adoption of biofuel-powered mobile networks would place Africa at the forefront of a new wave of innovation that is making mobile communications affordable and accessible across the developing world," said Karel Pienaar, CTIO of the MTN Group.
In a pilot project, supported by expertise and funding from the GSMA's Development Fund, Ericsson and MTN are setting up a pilot biodiesel-powered base station solution in Lagos and will later deploy biodiesel-fueled base stations in rural regions of south eastern and south western Nigeria. The three organizations are setting up a supply chain designed to benefit the local population by sourcing a variety of locally-produced crops and processing them into biofuel. Groundnuts, pumpkin seeds, jatropha, and palm oil will be used in the initial pilot tests.
"The extension of mobile networks into rural areas is vital to boost the social and economic welfare of the developing world," said Rob Conway, CEO of the GSMA, the global trade association for mobile operators. "Biofuels have the potential to make that happen by giving mobile operators local access to a commercially and environmentally sustainable power supply."
The GSMA and Ericsson will draw on the findings of the pilot to help operators across the developing world determine whether they can use biodiesel to power their networks in rural areas.
"In order to reach the next billion mobile users, we need to reach lower-spending segments of the population profitably," said Bert Nordberg, Executive Vice President, Sales and Marketing, Ericsson. "By using locally-produced biofuels, we could significantly lower the cost of operating mobile base stations in rural areas."