“Green Power for Mobile” Initiative – Good News for Off-Grid Telecom 29 Sep, 2008

GSMA’s latest initiative pushes for the use of renewable energy sources for mobile networks.

The target is to have 100,000+ off-grid base stations deployed by 2012. As a regular reader of the VNL blog, you should be quite familiar with the large power and fuel challenge that mobile operators face.

Energy prices are soaring, while ARPU’s are dropping. The solution to these issues is to focus on energy efficiency and renewable energy sources.

With this in mind, GSMA’s effort is both very timely and highly relevant. The explosive growth in the mobile industry must be managed responsibly to avoid an enormous negative environmental impact. Especially in countries like India where more than 9 million new users are added every month and base stations are being deployed quicker than suppliers of diesel generators can deliver. In May this year, Bharti Airtel (one of the largest mobile operators in India), claimed they were adding almost 3,000 new base station sites every month.

Pushing for the usage of renewable energy sources for mobile networks not only has the potential of reducing air pollution and mobile operators’ operating costs – because of the huge scale of the mobile industry, it can impact the whole renewable energy field; providing a live testing ground for new innovations in solar and wind power.

We applaud GSMA’s initiative. But beyond their project’s focus on renewable energy is a required re-thinking of mobile infrastructure technology – the area where VNL is singularly focused.

The next billion mobile users will come from rural areas, and to roll out mobile networks here is a unique challenge. It’s not only about using solar or wind power. And it won’t do to simply attach a large solar array to existing mobile infrastructure, since the energy requirement and cost per site simply prevents the solution from scaling. And the idea of burning a matter – be it diesel or cooking oil, or a mixture of both – to extract power is not sustainable in the long run. We’ve earlier argued against biofuels, and remain firm in our stance.

Off grid telecom, or “microtelecom” in VNL lingo, consists of four key ingredients:

  1. Low power (no more than a lightbulb, which makes solar power viable)
  2. Low cost (no more than a simple tractor, per site)
  3. Dead simple installation (so local labourers can do the job)
  4. A business model that scales

With WorldGSM™ – VNL’s solar powered GSM system – all these ingredients are present. The combination allows mobile operators to finally provide mobile services to rural areas.

Profitably so. And responsibly so.

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