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The power and fuel challenge 26 May, 2008

We recently analysed the balance sheets of Airtel and Idea. The outcome was not surprising. One of the biggest chunks of operating costs is spelled “Power & Fuel”.

Mobile operators around the globe are faced with the problem of reducing ARPU because of fierce competition. The biggest challenge for operators is to rapidly enhance their existing infrastructure while remaining profitable.

One way to improve profitability is to reduce the costs of operations of the network. On analysis of the balance sheets of Airtel and Idea, we found that “Power and Fuel” forms the biggest chunk in the network operating costs.

Refer to the charts below for details of the distribution of network operating costs for Airtel and Idea (FY 2006 – 07).

Added to the actual cost of grid power and fuel for generators, the environmental impact of today’s mobile networks is enormous. Most of the electricity doesn’t come from renewable energy sources like wind or water.

In India alone, 2 billion litres of diesel fuel are burned annually just to power the diesel generators needed to keep Base Stations running.

To get a sense of the scale, 2 billion litres is the annual milk production in Venezuela, and the total amount of bottled water consumed in the UK every year.

Fortunately, VNL’s WorldGSM™ technology can help mobile operators lower network operating costs in rural and remote areas. In a sustainable way. Find out more »

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The telemedicine promise 23 May, 2008

In recent years, mobile telephony has dramatically changed access to healthcare. And the potential impact on rural communities is tremendous.

Dubbed telemedicine, the practice of extending clinical medicine through modern communication is a fast-expanding field.

For many, telemedicine is associated with advanced surgery performed over long distances with a videolink and remotely controlled surgical equipment. But it is much more than that.

Per definition, telemedicine is:

“…a rapidly developing application of clinical medicine where medical information is transferred via telephone, the Internet or other networks for the purpose of consulting, and sometimes remote medical procedures or examinations.”

So even two doctors discussing a case over the telephone counts as a valid example. But what we’re most interested in is of course how mobile telephony unlocks new possibilities and brings a new level of health and awareness to rural communities.

“In India, nearly 75% of the population lives in rural villages, and more than 75% of doctors are based in cities”

- Sanjit Baghi, “Telemedicine in Rural India“, 2006

The Indian government spends only 0.9% of the annual GDP on healthcare, and only a miniscule fraction of that reaches remote rural areas. And the poor infrastructure surrounding rural health centers makes if difficult to attract and retain good doctors in villages, since they become isolated and outdated because of lack of connectivity.

“89% of rural Indian patients have to travel about 8 km to access basic medical treatment, and the rest have to travel even farther”

- Rao R, “Taking health care to rural areas“, 2005

Many are hoping telemedicine can bridge this divide.

As a primer, and for further reading, we recommend taking a look at the research paper “Telemedicine: A new horizon in public health in India” by Dasgupta Aparajita and Deb Soumya.

To learn more, we’ve researched the emerging field of mobile-based telemedicine, primarily with a focus on India, and encountered a bunch of very promising initiatives and projects.

Apollo Telemedicine

The Apollo Hospitals Group is an Indian telemedicine pioneer. Apollo was started in the seventies, and is today the largest corporate entity in healthcare in India.

They have a large number of telemedicine centers across India, offer telehealth technology courses and are basing their telemedicine initiatives around their “Medintegra” software platform.

Read more about Apollo at telemedicineindia.com.

Dr. K. Ganapathy, neurosurgeon at Apollo in Chennai, has written a comprehensive and interesting article about telemedicine: Telemedicine in India – the Apollo experience

Telemedicine Society of India

TSI is an industry association, created to “promote and encourage development, advancement and research in the science of telemedicine and its associated fields”.

It aims to encourage application of telemedicine technology by working closely with the industry to develop and implement innovative telemedicine products & services.

More info can be found at tsi.org.in

Online Telemedicine Research Institute

OTRI aims to connect remote and rural areas with major hospitals.

Their speciality lies within software-based tools, ranging from the Medicon 9000 video conferencing tool to the Telecardio 3000 telecardiology system.

Learn more about OTRI: onlinetelemedicine.com

Narayana Hrudayalaya Foundation

The Narayana Hrudayalaya Foundation has a mission to make sophisticated healthcare available to the masses in India.

The NH Telemedicine Network is one of the largest telemedicine networks in the world. Sponsored by ISRO (Indian Space Research Organisation), it is available in 26 locations in India and abroad. Online 24/7, it mainly targets heart patients from remote areas.

Over 12,000 patients have been treated cost-free in the last two years.

Learn more at narayanahospitals.com

HealthCare Telebiomedical

India-based Telebiomedical develops technology for monitoring ECG, blood pressure values, blood glucose level, pulse oximeter, weight and other vital signs over the phone.

Their Heartline ECG monitoring product series is a full range of devices for remote diagnostic and emergency service applications.

SMS a doctor

Piramal Healthcare have started a rural healthcare pilot in Rajasthan. The idea is based around specially trained nurses that are locally stationed in villages and communicate back to doctors at a central hospital via SMS.

Read more in our previous post “A new model for rural healthcare

The mobile microscope

A research team at Unical has developed a device which turns mobile phones into microscopes.

Aptly named the “CellScope”, it has the potential to revolutionize telemedicine by giving much greater depth and detail to remote diagnosis and monitoring of illnesses.

The level of detail is so good that the CellScope can even show individual white and red blood cells – making it possible to identify the malaria parasite.

And the uses extend beyond traditional medicine. For example, farmers can send in images from diseased plant samples to be analysed by agricultural experts.

Learn more: “Doctor on call” (economist.com)

Project Tristan

The telemedicine experiment “Project Tristan” is a joint project managed by IBM. It centers around providing advanced telemedicine services to the isolated island of Tristan da Cunha – a small cluster of volcanic islands in the middle of the South Atlantic.

The Economist recently wrote about Project Tristan:

The islanders have access to some of the most advanced medical facilities in the world, thanks to IBM’s Project Tristan, an elaborate experiment in telemedicine.

This field, which combines telecommunications and medicine, is changing as technology improves. To start with, it sought to help doctors and medical staff exchange information, for example by sending X-rays in electronic form to a specialist. That sort of thing is becoming increasingly common.

What we are starting to see now is a patient-doctor model,” says Richard Bakalar, chief medical officer at IBM.”

The project allows worldwide medical experts to assist island clinicians with medical diagnoses and emergency support.

How VNL fits in

As you’ve probably learned by reading about VNL, our WorldGSM™ system makes it possible for mobile operators to extend their reach into previously un-connected areas.

It may sound like a small thing. But the truth is that billions of people still don’t have access to a mobile phone. In India alone, the numbers are measured in hundreds of millions.

We aim to change this fact by pioneering the microtelecom revolution.

Connectivity enables telemedicine. Needless to say, we’re excited about the opportunity!

What are your thoughts? Let us know!

Solar roofing 20 May, 2008

Lumeta has developed solar roofing that can be installed in just half an hour. It’s a clever idea: photovoltaic tiles that integrate into an existing roof.

For residential applications, Lumeta offers both integrated S tile and Flat Tile solar products, as well as asphalt shingle roof systems for home builders.

Lumeta’s larger photovoltaic module – the PowerPly 380 – is intended for commercial applications. Triplepundit has an interesting video of a PowerPly installation (it’s fast): “Peel & stick solar fulfills the need … for speed!

Installing regular photovoltaic panels can difficult in two ways: it’s a cumbersome process, and large solar panels tend to stand out from the overall house architecture (a photovoltaic eyesore, if you will). So the idea of integrating a solar panel installation with existing roofing makes serious sense.

Indeed, the future looks bright for Lumeta.

Learn more: www.lumetasolar.com

Burn, diesel, burn 9 May, 2008

India’s booming cellphone market – with over 2 million new subscribers every week – has created an insatiable demand for diesel generators.

Livemint.com reports that mobile operators, who are just starting to see the rural opportunity, are struggling to find enough generators to expand their networks.

With this development, we may soon unfortunately have to revise our earlier estimate: that close to 2 billion litres of diesel fuel is needed every year just to power generator sets for Base Stations in India.

The environmental impacts, combined with predictions of oil prices rising up to $200 per barrel within 2 years, clearly underline the enormous need for clean and sustainable alternatives.

Seems like the time is right for WorldGSM™ »

Quote of the quarter 7 May, 2008

William McDonough, world-renowned sustainable architect and designer, explains why we’re not especially smart as a design species:

How can anything be beautiful if it is not ecologically intelligent? I reflect on the fact that it took us 5000 years to put wheels on our luggage. So, we are not that really smart as a design species. If we look at a tree and think of it as a design assignment, it would be like asking us to make something that makes oxygen, sequesters carbon, fixes nitrogen, distills water, provides habitat for hundreds of species, accrues solar energy as fuel, makes complex sugars and food, changes colors with the seasons, creates microclimates and self replicates.”

Powerful observation. Hear McDonough on Studio 360 or check out his website »

Where are the charging stations? 2 May, 2008

Anders Perjons – VNL’s own verification & measurement guru – is an electric car advocate. He has three electric cars that he has reconditioned himself. The big challenge is to charge them.

Anders and his fellow electric car promoter Lars Magnusson drive their cars on a daily basis. Fully charged, the batteries last up to 70km. Then they have to be charged, and this is where charging stations are needed.

Anders and Lars most often charge their cars at home. Because in Stockholm, Sweden, there are only three official charging stations. To increase the usefulness of having an electric car, and to encourage others to get one, cities need to increase the number of charging stations.

But isn’t a normal electric socket enough? Anders says;

“We really just need an electric socket. But the fuse has to handle at least 10 ampere. And most fuses don’t, so it can be quite risky to take a chance.”

If Stockholm and other cities build granular charging station networks, both Anders and Lars think that the electric car will have a definite breakthrough.

There are many types of chargeable hybrid cars in the market with much longer action radius than 70km, and petrol or ethanol engines that enable longer trips.

Dual benefits

According to Lars’ calculations, the running cost of his electric car is between 1-2 SEK (0.20 – 0.40 USD) per 10km – less than 1/10th of a regular combustion engine-based car.

And electric cars contribute zero carbon dioxide emissions, if the electricity used to charge the batteries comes from renewable energy sources like wind or water.

We salute Anders for his initiative, and hope to see more electric cars, and charging stations, in the world’s cities . Hopefully sooner than later.

Read an interview with Anders & Lars: “Elbilar saknar kontakter” (in Swedish)