Are Solar Cell Phone Towers the Answer in Rural Areas?


Cell phone customers in remote areas from Africa to Appalachia have been undeserved for years. Is VNL’s new solar-powered transmitter the answer?

VNL, one of the world’s leading manufacturers of cell phone infrastructure, has been trying for years to figure out how to serve the far-flung populations that mobile carriers know represent a huge new customer base. The issue hasn’t been the price of installing transmitter towers, but instead the cost of economically powering and supporting them them when they require placement in areas that aren’t on the current power grid. To nmake things more complicated, amny of these areas don’t have trained engineers nearby, and frequently lack the roads to easily facilitate their construction.

GSM phone service is one of the most power and technology-intensive methods of communication available, and yet it’s crucial to safety and development of rural communities. Now VNL thinks they’ve found the answer: solar power.

How Does Solar Fix These Problems?

The entire GSM system has been re-engineered to a new standard called WorldGSM, and it requires less than half of the energy required by a standard transmitter. With that sort of savings, VNL was able to explore alternative fuels and battery packs, ultimately deciding that solar offered them the most utility. This includes a rural-optimized (and solar) switching center and base controller, meaning the entire system has been redesigned to be robust enough for rural conditions. The best part?  Solar power and the optimization process have virtually eliminated the need for engineers to visit the installations, potentially saving over 2 million gallons of diesel fuel in India alone.

Have Ox, Will Travel

The optimized WorldGSM technology has already been hailed as “revolutionary” by mobile providers inside India.  It’s so light and easy to transport that VNL has announced that the transmitter will fit in two ox carts for transport. The system can also be assembled by laymen, a smart distribution strategy for a rural technology.  It’s also interoperable with equipment from different carriers, and is projected to open up the next billion mobile phone customers. VNL has the potential to dramatically improve the prospects of isolated communities in a world economy — sustainably.

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