VNL, a Swedish and Indian start-up headed by an ex-Ericsson executive, Anil Raj, claims to have re-engineered the GSM network architecture to support cheap and ultra low power base stations for extending coverage to rural areas.
The systems, called WorldGSM, is a result of four years of development and includes a solar powered solution for roof tops as well as a so-called, Cascading Star Architecture that extends network coverage from a Road Site along a bus topology to Rural Sites that in turn deploy a star topology to link up multiple Village Sites.
“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 company said. “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).”
VNL is not alone is reducing the energy requirements of mobile base stations. All the major players today have announced efforts to reduce energy requirements for their base station products. While VNL says traditional GSM base stations requires 3,000W to operator, both Nokia Siemens Networks and Ericsson have announced products and initiatives to reduce energy consumption of their base stations. For example, NSN’s current generation of GSM base stations require 800W of power with the next generation of equipment targeted at 650W.
IMPRESSIVE POWER CLAIMS
According to VNL’s product sheets, its portfolio of sites will require no more than 90W – similar to a light bulb – to operate with its Village Sites requiring only 50W of power.
One method the company used to reduce power consumption was to abandon traditional chipsets from telecoms vendors for low-powered chipsets from the consumer electronics and auto industries, reprogramming them with new software for its GSM solution.
At the same time, the sites are designed to operate without the need for shelter and air conditioning, further reducing power consumption. In addition, the system will work without mains power, generator or diesel fuel. Instead, it will be paired with solar panels, which because of the low power requirements, can be much smaller – between 2-8 square metres.
In addition to energy efficiency, VNL says that its solutions are created according to a concept it calls “microtelecom,” which defines technology and a business model for low-income rural users. Microtelecom solutions are designed to be low cost, low power, easy to deploy and support business models that take into account local resources and limitations, the company said.
As such, each VNL site costs as little as $3,500, according to company officials. More importantly, the systems are very easy to deploy. For the example, the village site is designed “to be carted to site and assembled in hours by untrained local workers.”
The microtelecom concept also includes a business model that involves the outsourcing of rural network operations to local entrepreneurs. The model consists of mobile operators, banks and microfinance agencies, telecoms regulators. In the model, mobile operators manages the mobile network, including the network backbone, roaming, interconnect and billing services while the rural entrepreneur brings in the local knowledge of the area, the capability of service delivery and operations in the local area. The microfinance agencies provide loans for the entrepreneurs, and the regulator ensures an even playing field.
The solution targets emerging markets with large low-income, rural areas without network coverage such as India. The model leverages the low cost equipment to reduce investment risk while empowering local entrepreneurs to play a role in rolling out network coverage in their locations, similar to the successful Village Phone program by Bangladesh’s Grameenphone.
Like Grameenphone’s Village Phone program, microtelecom roll outs would quality as for USO subsidies from governments, a VNL white paper suggests. VNL will also help its operator customers with their application for USO funds.
WHO IS VNL?
VNL’s CEO is Anil Raj, who founded Hutchison India, now the country’s second largest operators after its acquisition by Vodafone. Prior to joining VNL, Raj was at Ericsson where he served in several senior positions, including president of Ericsson’s India operations, head of the company’s smartphone business. According to his bio, he also spearheaded and managed the Sony – Ericsson handset merger, serving as chief strategy officer at the company. He also served as chairman of the Symbian initiative.