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.