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Incremental Ideas: Solar-Powered GSM Towers
Ethan Zuckerman, 28 Jul 08


I wrote a bit last year about the idea of "incremental infrastructure." Basically, the idea is that there might be a future for infrastructure projects in Africa that build small pieces of infrastructure and either join them together, or simply make a profit serving a local community. One of the major vectors proposed was working with mobile phone companies to build power infrastructure, an idea stolen shamelessly from the brilliant Russell Southwood.

Russell gets credit for tipping me off to today’s incrementalism link: an announcement by Indian telecoms vendor VNL that they’ve developed a solar-powered, battery back up low power GSM tower. These towers won’t provide enough excess power that they can sell energy to local villages - which is what Russell and I had proposed companies might start doing with diesel generators, but they’ll certainly be more environmentally friendly than diesel generators, and they point to both the increasing practicality of photovoltaic generation in sub-Saharan Africa, and the value of designing products specifically for difficult infrastructure markets.

This piece originally appeared on Ethan Zuckerman's excellent personal blog My Heart's In Accra.

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Not new. Motorola have offered a drop box GSM BTS since 2006 (I remember tripping over the thing at 3GSM that year) using their Canopy microwave backhaul and either solar or wind power. Ericsson's RBS2111, I think, is designed to be solar, and I happen to know they are spending money on wind turbine R&D (there are some technical issues with putting a turbine of any size on a cell tower due to the end thrust on the turbine and the precisely aligned wave guide that gets the signal from the BTS to the radio head).

Posted by: Alex on 29 Jul 08



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