The next billion cellular connections will come from rural areas in developing markets. However, building the cellular infrastructure in these regions presents radically different challenges from building networks in urban areas:
The power grid in these areas is unreliable, if it exists at all.
There is no wired telecom infrastructure to run the network backbone of the cellular network.
The large distance over poor roads makes site maintenance time consuming and expensive.
There is little local skilled labor to support the site maintenance.
Vanu has addressed all of these challenges with the CompactRAN™ and continues to address it with Vanu’s Community Connect. The benefits of the Vanu solution are:
Vanu solution is a compact carrier grade outdoor base station, weighing only 9.6kg. The small form factor allows for simplified mounting on poles and alternative structures, eliminates the need to place equipment on the ground, and greatly simplifies tower construction requirements.
It is built to withstand wind, sand, vandals, and temperatures of 132 ˚F, this “network-in-a-box” offers connectivity—and lets the company maintain and upgrade its software—through such media as DSL, wireless broadband, or a satellite link.
Low power consumption while transmitting two GSM carriers, enabling it to run off of alternative energy sources such as solar and wind for extended periods of time.
The CompactRAN uses only 64 watts of power supplied entirely by solar panels. Conventional base stations can use 10 or more kilowatts and guzzle thousands of dollars’ worth of diesel fuel each month.
It is solar powered to provide coverage where there is no power grid.
The Community Connect is the next generation GSM/EDGE base station from Vanu Inc. It is dual TRX system, designed to support up to 10W per TRX in the GSM 850/900 MHz and DCS 1800/1900 MHz bands. The BTS is highly integrated and includes the duplexers in the enclosure. The new BTS is enclosed in an IP67 rated enclosure and weighs 9.6kg. The small form factor allows for simplified mounting on poles and alternative structures. This greatly simplifies the tower construction requirements. The BTS is low power and consumes only 64W when operating at its peak output power of 10W per channel.
Utilizes a latency and jitter tolerant packet-based IP backhaul, enabling the infrastructure to use a wide variety of media for backhaul including microwave, wireless broadband, cable modem, Digital Subscriber Line (DSL), and satellite connections.
Software radio architecture allows for standards upgrades and bug fixes to be downloaded remotely. Vanu has performed over the air satellite upgrades from voice to data for a customer in the remote areas of Nepal.
Maintenance is simplified through remote monitoring and software upgrades. Hardware fixes are simple swap-outs, that do not require specific technical training.
The total cost of a site—including land, equipment, installation, and commissioning—is $25,000. Vanu has no subscribers of its own; it offers coverage through established cellular service providers, who pay for each minute or megabyte their customers use. By signing deals with multiple competing carriers, Vanu can generate enough revenue per site to turn a profit.
They set up a network in Rwanda in 2016 and within a few months, more than 100,000 of the three Rwandan carriers’ subscribers—villagers who’d previously traveled periodically to the closest town with coverage to call or text—were using Vanu’s network.
Many of the Poor Rwandan people already had cellphones but no service
The system is now in use by over 200,000 Rwandans who’d had no cell coverage at home or work.
Vanu plans to connect thousands of villages in India and is considering expanding to Zambia, Sierra Leone, Ghana, Kenya, Uganda, and Botswana in the coming years. Those countries are home to many of the world’s unconnected people: 62 percent of sub-Saharan Africans and 67 percent of Indians live in rural areas.
Lifting people out of poverty with solar lights and mobile money
A cellular connection also makes possible solar home lighting systems financed with phone-based “pay as you go” systems, digital banking services, weather and market price notifications for farmers, access to medical information for rural health workers, educational materials for teachers and students in rural schools, and more.
“We have a lot of evidence on the impacts of mobile money,” says Tavneet Suri, an associate professor of applied economics at MIT’s Sloan School of Management and an expert on development in sub-Saharan Africa. Her research has shown that access to mobile-phone-based money transfers lifted 2 percent of Kenya’s population out of extreme poverty, increasing people’s savings and ability to withstand financial crises.