Telecom equipment vendor, VNL, has finally cracked the problem facing mobile operators in the developing world: how to provide affordable mobile services to rural people - and still turn a profit.
Launched today, VNL – and its solar-powered GSM system – will change the telecoms market in rural areas across the world. For years, operators and GSM equipment vendors have struggled with the same problem, namely that traditional GSM was not designed for the unique challenges posed by vast rural areas. It costs too much, is too expensive to run, uses too much power and is too difficult to deploy (especially in areas with no electricity, poor roads and no skilled engineers).
VNL has re-engineered GSM technology to reduce its power requirement and make it suitable for a rural environment where electricity is scarce or unavailable.
The result is VNL’s WorldGSM™ system, which includes base stations that only need between 50W and 120W of power to operate (compared to 3000 W for a typical GSM base station). A WorldGSM base station is entirely powered by solar energy with a 72 hour battery back-up in place (also charged by solar power).
The system also includes a rural-optimised MSC (Mobile Switching Centre), and a compact BSC (Base Station Controller) – making WorldGSM a complete, end-to-end GSM network.
Thanks to solar power, WorldGSM both drastically reduces the operating expenses for mobile operators - and contributes to a much lower environmental impact. VNL has estimated that mobile networks in India alone require 2 billion litres of diesel every year to power back-up diesel generators.
India-based Luke Thomas, from the research and consulting company Frost & Sullivan, says: “India is the fastest growing telecoms market in the world but some urban areas have already reached saturation point. VNL has opened up a whole new area of subscriber and revenue growth for operators by building a commercial – and profitable – GSM system to service remote low-density rural areas.”
Indian infrastructure provider, Quippo Telecom Infrastructure Limited (QTIL, www.quippoworld.com), will be trialling WorldGSM in rural areas of India in the near future. Following the successful completion of the trial, QTIL expects to roll out a complete commercial network that will be fully integrated with the networks of existing operators. Agreements with several prominent operators have been reached and are in the process of being finalised.
Probal Ghosal, CEO of QTIL, says: “Every so often a company comes along that really changes the telecoms industry. VNL is one such company. Not only that, and more importantly, it’s improving the lives of the world’s rural communities.
I know that there will be considerable demand for and deployment of VNL’s equipment in rural India. The villages of India may be remote but the people who live there are ready and waiting for phones. Take an average small farmer, for example. He may often travel half a day just to get to a local market – only to find it is closed or not accepting his product that day. The advent of mobile phones will solve this type of problem at a stroke.”
VNL’s WorldGSM base stations have a number of unique features:
* Low cost: priced at less than a quarter of traditional GSM base stations and profitable at very low densities and subscriber revenues.
* Easy to transport: an entire WorldGSM base station packs into two carts and can be transported over rough terrain in something as simple as a bullock cart.
* Self-deploying and near-zero maintenance: can be assembled and activated by non-engineers.
* Small solar panels: the solar panels used are 2-8 m² and the power required is between 50 and 120W compared to the 200m² solar panel and 3000W required for traditional GSM Base Stations.
VNL’s WorldGSM base stations are interoperable with equipment from most major equipment manufacturers and are compatible with all standard handsets.
VNL is packed with telecoms industry veterans, most of whom have vast experience in bringing products and services to entirely new markets. Its CEO, Anil Raj, founded Hutch India in 1994 and served as its CEO before moving to Ericsson as President of its India operations.
Anil says: “Telecoms operators and equipment manufacturers have traditionally failed to deliver GSM to rural areas for the simple reason that it’s just too difficult and ultimately not sustainable. There’s no power, no engineers, no infrastructure, a difficult terrain, low density – and, most importantly, low subscriber revenues. VNL’s equipment has overcome these challenges and provides operators with a truly viable way to connect the next billion mobile users.”