VNL, an Indian company, aims to bring solar-powered phone networks to villages

By Kshitij Sobti | Published on 10 Feb 2010
VNL, an Indian company, aims to bring solar-powered phone networks to villages



An initiative by an Indian telecom company could soon make it possible for cellular networks to reach event he remotest of areas. VNL has developed cellular base stations which can operate on extremely low power.

 

"We've scaled down the cost, the energy, and the equipment so that almost anybody can deploy it, It lends itself to many business models that can serve the bottom of the pyramid,"

Rajiv Mehrotra, CEO of VNL

These cellular stations, which use only about 50 to 120 Watts of power which is low enough to be powered using solar cells and battery. With this low power consumption and the fact that they can be made self contained wireless units which needn't be connected to a grid, the technology is perfect for remote villages where it is difficult to bring connectivity by wired means or using conventional cellular towers.

 

A single such station would be capable of handling hundreds of users, and needs just two people to set it up. The station can be assembled and mounted on a roof top in the short span of six hours. This small station and others nearby can communicate with a base station withing 5kms (which itself is solar powered). The base station can then communicate with the main network.


The problem with traditional systems is, not only the fact that they need large amounts of power which necessitate the presence of a power grid, but also the cost involved. Traditional systems need customers to spend as much as Rs. 250 to Rs. 300 per month on average to make a profit, which is hard to get in rural areas. Thus their reluctance to provide coverage in such areas. VNL's system requires only as much as Rs. 90 to Rs. 100 per month per person on average from their customers to make a profit.

 

Currently as many as 50 such stations have been deployed in villages in Rajasthan and there are plans to introduce the technology in Africa. The systems deployed in Rajasthan are voice only, and dont support text or data, as most end users in those areas are cannot read or write.

 

It is nice to see such an innovation coming from India, and the fact that it can bring voice connectivity to the millions of people in India who are currently without any means of communication is heartening as well.

 

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Kshitij Sobti

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