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February 09, 2010

Solar Powered Cellular Phone Basestations

Technology Review - An Indian telecom company is deploying simple cell phone base stations that need as little as 50 watts of solar-provided power. It will soon announce plans to sell the equipment in Africa, expanding cell phone access to new ranks of rural villagers who live far from electricity supplies. This system will enable mobile phone service to be provided to 1.5 billion of the worlds rural poor. No electrical grid, no problem. In a few years, this could complete the penetration of the mobile to everyone and help alleviate poverty.

Besides enabling basic communication, cell phones can provide enormous financial opportunities for rural people, especially if those people adopt services that provide banking and lending via cell phone. More than half of India's 1.1 billion people lack any access to basic financial services, and instead pay usurious rates to local loan sharks. Furthermore, while microlending can lift people from poverty, only about 150 million people worldwide use such services. Besides enabling basic communication, cell phones can provide enormous financial opportunities for rural people, especially if those people adopt services that provide banking and lending via cell phone. More than half of India's 1.1 billion people lack any access to basic financial services, and instead pay usurious rates to local loan sharks. Furthermore, while microlending can lift people from poverty, only about 150 million people worldwide use such services.

Over the past year, VNL, based in Haryana, India, has reengineered traditional cellular base stations to create one that only requires between 50 and 120 watts of power, supplied by a solar-charged battery. The components can be assembled and booted up by two people and mounted on a rooftop in six hours.

One such station--dubbed a "village station"--can handle hundreds of users. Groups of such village stations feed signals to a required larger VNL base station within five kilometers. In turn that larger station, which is also solar-powered, relays signals to the main network. The village station can turn a profit even if customers spend on average only $2 a month on the service, instead of the $6 required to make traditional systems cost-effective



To date, some 50 VNL base stations have been installed in the Indian state of Rajasthan, introducing thousands of people to cell phone service for the first time. An African rollout is imminent. The initial batch of 50 stations supports only voice calls, not text or data, a decision mainly based on the fact that many of the new users may not be able to read or write.



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