Solar and wind powered mobile communications

While I’ve written extensively on the potential for mobiles to complement PC based Online Dispute Resolution (ODR) mechanisms, vitiating the potential has to date been the lack of access to mobile services in remote areas because of a lack of or intermittent electricity. Statistics in Sri Lanka suggest that the household electrification rate in Sri Lanka ranges from 28 per cent to 36 per cent despite the fact that rural electrification programmes began over half a century ago. And the economies of scale and our own power generation problems may prevent remote communities from getting electricity to their villages for some time to come, given that CEB is reeling with the present load, leave aside projected future growth.

No electricity, no GSM towers, no mobile service. Even Dialog’s coverage in Sri Lanka has vast swathes of land with little or no coverage.

Enter Motorola in Namibia, where through its Reach GSM programme, it is piloting a novel approach to expanding mobile coverage that uses solar and wind power generation to power GSM towers. The question of financial viability notwithstanding, this seems to be a novel approach to expanding coverage with penetration deep into areas without electricity. In Sri Lanka, population density vs. mobile coverage in the South-East (compare this map with the Dialog mobile coverage map) would suggest that there is a sizeable market that is current without good access to mobile services (through Dialog anyway, couldn’t find coverage maps for Tigo or Mobitel). And if one of the arguments here was that towers are too expensive to construct and maintain using ever increasing electricity tariffs, then perhaps Namibia offers some inspiration? As Motorola notes:

This solution provides comprehensive voice and data communications using an efficient and reliable alternative to the costly roll out of electricity in remote areas. It is an ideal solution for both emerging and developed markets, providing cost-effective, environmently friendly power to enable wireless communications to a wider audience.

And it seems as if Motorola isn’t stopping there, with a concept note on the site demonstrating solar and wind power generation to service the demands of even a Metro WiFi network.

Solar Power Requirements

For pathbreaking services such as FrontlineSMS, this is good news, as it allows an ever widening footprint of mobile phones to progressively influence the manner in which remote communities communicate, with each other, and the rest of the world.

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