America’s Network: “India’s VNL brings solar-powered GSM for rural areas” 25 Jul, 2008

Indian company Vihaan Networks Limited (VNL) developed equipment that will allow mobile operators to deploy networks into rural areas by making use of solar power and pre-built components. VNL said the solar-powered components include base stations, mobile switching centres and base station controllers, which can be built by untrained labor in just days.

The VNL WorldGSM system base stations need only between 50W and 120W of power to operate against a typical 3000W for a current GSM base station and is entirely powered by solar energy with a 72 hour battery backup which is also charged by solar energy.

WorldGSM is intended for deployment in rural areas which are currently not served by existing networks because the cost of deploying standard network infrastructure. High infrastructure costs combined with low returns and the need to service and power the infrastructure make these rural areas unattractive for mobile operators using standard equipment.

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Share “VNL Debuts First Microtelecom Solution”

As India is witnessing a deep rise in the mobile phone population especially from the rural markets, Indian company Vihaan Networks Limited (VNL) is right there to meet up this challenge and the company has just developed solar powered GSM network equipment for rural areas.

Traditional GSM equipments face thick range of complexity to meet up with the unique challenges posed by rural areas which includes high cost, deployment difficulties due to poor infrastructure and low usage, high power consumption etc which is a major task for the operators and GSM equipment vendors.

The new GSM equipment, WorldGSM is the first microtelecom solution announced by VNL and is designed to meet the problems posed by rural markets. It allows mobile telecoms operators to deploy networks into rural areas by utilizing solar power and pre-built components that form base stations, mobile switching centers and base station controllers, which can be built by even untrained labors.

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Unstrung: “Sun Powers Startup’s GSM System”

Startup equipment vendor Vihaan Networks Ltd. (VNL) thinks it has the answer to bringing GSM cellular coverage to the masses of rural India. The Indian-Swedish firm has unveiled a range of solar-powered GSM base stations that will be shipped to rural villages in India in flat packs, IKEA-style.

Unstrung met with VNL’s CEO, Anil Raj, recently and he explained that the aim is for anyone to be able to install these GSM base stations and systems. “There will be no written instructions, so anyone, even illiterate people, can install these. The instructions will be all pictoral,” he says. “They run on solar — the only maintenance is wiping away the bird droppings.”

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Kamla Bhatt Blog: “VNL’s Solar Powered End-to-End GSM Network” 23 Jul, 2008

India has the fastest growing mobile subscriber base in the world and is now ranked 2nd right after China. In order to grow its mobile consumer base Indian and Chinese telecom operators have recognized there is a need to reach out to the rural areas and provide viable, sustainable and efficient telecom infrastructure before they can roll out mobile services to them.

For instance, in India there has been a strong emphasis in rolling out mobile infrastructure to the rural market by operators like Airtel and there has been talk about sharing of infrastructure between the telecom operators.

While telecom operators appear to have figured out how to manufacture low-cost handsets they are still working on how to manufacture low-cost, rugged telecom infrastructure that can be deployed in the rural areas of these countries. A central challenge for expansion has been the high cost of energy bills, non-availability of engineers or trained technicians along with the high cost of transportation. VNL, an Indian-Swedish telecom company headed by Anil Raj recently introduced a new product: solar based GSM -system that appears to clearly address the needs and challenges in rolling out mobile infrastructure into rural areas. Raj helped found Hutchinson India in 1994., which underwent quite a few changes and owners before becoming part of Vodafone.

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Cellular news: “Solar Powered GSM Platform Launched – Trials in India” 22 Jul, 2008

Telecom equipment vendor, VNL has launched a solar powered GSM platform which the company says needs 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.

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.”

VNL has estimated that mobile networks in India alone require 2 billion litres of diesel every year to power back-up diesel generators.

Indian infrastructure provider, Quippo Telecom Infrastructure 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.

VNL’s 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.”

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Techradar: “Solar powered mobile networks on the way”

Rural areas can now have mobile chat too

By Gareth Beavis,

Swedish-Asian telecommunications vendor VNL has launched a solar powered GSM system it hopes will extend the customer base for mobile phone networks in rural areas.

Rural areas in emerging nations, such as India or China, have been unable to own a mobile phone due to the lack of network coverage, as the towers required are expensive, power-hungry and there’s a lack of skilled workers to install them.

The WorldGSM station uses around five per cent of the usual amount of electricity, and is a complete GSM network in itself.

Fun in the sun

VNL’s new line is designed to run at a maximum of 120W of power, using less electricity, and is powered by the sun, so installation is relatively easy.

They also use a 72 back-up battery to make sure the network remains stable.

Indian firm Quippo Telecom Infrastructure will be testing the WorldGSM system in remote areas of India soon, and hopes to roll out the system to a number of locations, with a number of networks involved in talks.

CEO Anil Raj 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.”

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IDG: “The mobile network inspired by Ikea”

By Mikael Ricknäs, IDG News Service, 07/22/2008

VNL wants to turn the way mobile base stations are made and installed on its head, making it more economic to offer service in rural areas in developing countries. To do so, it looked to consumer electronics manufacturers and furniture giant IKEA for inspiration.

The majority of future growth for mobile operators will come in developing countries, in rural areas where subscribers will get their first phone. But traditional equipment is too expensive to buy and maintain if operators are to remain profitable where average revenue per user (ARPU) falls below US$2, according to Anil Raj, CEO of VNL, a Swedish-Indian start-up.

To be able to address this market you have to start with a blank piece of paper, and assume that there are no roads, no electricity, no qualified personnel, and an ARPU of $1-$2, according to Raj.

To reduce power consumption as much as possible, VNL decided to support only circuit-switched GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) connections, and not the more power-hungry data connections of GPRS (General Packet Radio System) or 3G (third-generation) systems.

In addition, the company looked for help in other sectors where power consumption is a concern.

“If you use traditional telecom components you quickly hit a limit of what is possible, so instead we decided to use components from consumer electronics,” said Raj.

So its equipment use speech coding from an MP3 player, its components for digital signal processing are usually found in cars, and the software is all open source.

VNL also quickly decided to go with a solar powered solution, a technology which has become more stable in recent years.

“Solar power isn’t getting more efficient, but it is getting cheaper. There is a lot of VC money going into improving the manufacturing process,” said Raj.

The end result is VNL’s WorldGSM Village Site base station, with a power consumption of under 50 watts, according to Raj. A typical GSM base station last year consumed 800 watts, according to Nokia Siemens, a manufacturer of traditional network infrastructure.

Nokia Siemens’ base stations support more users than VNL’s, but that is not necessarily what is needed in rural areas, according to Raj.

“Existing base stations are really good at scaling up, but not down to support a smaller number of subscribers in one site,” he said.

The WorldGSM Village Site base station has enough capacity to support up to 100 typical subscribers, the company said.

Its cost is also radically different from exiting base stations. A WorldGSM Village Site will cost about US$3,500. Today it’s difficult to find a base station that costs less than US$25,000, according to Raj. VNL foresees a model where a village buys its own base station, to minimize the risk for operators.

Keeping equipment costs and power consumption down isn’t enough to get the job done, according to Raj. VNL has also had to rethink the way base stations are installed. The normal way of installing base stations just isn’t practical when you are in the middle of nowhere. “Our vision is that villagers can go to and pick up a base station, put it on their ox-cart, travel for two days and then install it themselves,” said Raj.

VNL uses color coded cables, and when connecting it to the rest of the network a continuous beeping sound will tell the installer when the microwave link is pointing in the right direction.

It also uses pictures to explain the installation process, in part because it does not have the resources to translate its manual to the many languages that would be necessary, and also as a way of getting around illiteracy among potential installers.

VNL will start trials in September, with an Indian operator that will remain anonymous for now. The goal is then to start shipping larger volumes during the first quarter next year.

Cracking the market for mobile equipment isn’t something easily done. Selling to carriers has always been difficult for start-ups, and unlike Chinese manufacturers ZTE and Huawei, VNL doesn’t have the backing of the Chinese government. But Raj is convinced the company has found a niche large enough to become a success.

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