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RuralStar - A New Horizon for Rural Mobile Users

Jun 2018

A Different Piece of Wood

Over the past week Afryea’s friends received more and more messages from Afryea via WhatsApp. Afryea was delighted to now be able to indicate to her friends that mobile services are becoming increasingly available for a surprising long list of phones due to the installation of an amazing “wooden pole”.

Afryea is now teaching in a village located in the rural region of Ghana. Years ago, Afryea was lucky to have the privilege of studying in cities and had been so used to using WhatsApp, Snapchat and Instagram. However, she explained that it took her an inordinate amount of time to readjust to the life without these Apps after she returned to the village which rarely has signal.

Nyakpoo, the village chief explained the situation to Afryea of how and why people simply couldn’t get access to network. The nearest base station was more than 20 kilometers from here, and of course achieving signal reception was then no easy task. Before the “wooden pole” base station was installed, the village chief himself was often required to ride his motorcycle a few miles to get closer to base station to use Mobile Money. “Since our village suffered from a considerable lack of electricity and fiber optic cables, there was simply no other ways to build a base station. I am amazed that all these issues can be solved with a simple piece of wood.”

Challenges and Opportunities Ahead

Of course, the entire credit cannot be a simple piece of wood. It’s the RuralStar solution designed to offer rural network.

In Ghana, 5 million people remain sparsely scattered throughout many remote areas, having little or no access to internet. In recent years, both operators and the governments have been closely working hard to bring networks to these rural areas. The biggest problem lies in that operators cannot feasibly manage to expect a reasonable payback, even with the additional government subsidies.

Afryea’s village has only 2500 people in total. This means that it will require at least 10 years to recoup the cost of deploying one base station. Another troubling dilemma is that building a base station in these villages will cost even more than compared to deployment in an urban area. This is due to the absence of capable electricity and transmission networks. 1 Mbit/s bandwidth satellite transmission cover a cost of over USD 1000 per month, which is a completely unacceptable.

The RuralStar solution is all about change. The solution uses a Relay based on 4G technology to realize data transmission instead of expensive satellite and microwave. Relay transmission does not have the line of sight (LOS) constraints, allowing a base station to be constructed on a simple pole like a wood instead of a 30 m dedicated tower. With low-power features, RuralStar can be powered purely using six solar panels.

Operator chose the Afryea’s village as one of the first villages to implement RuralStar. The wooden pole to accommodate the base station is prepared locally in the village. The base station deployment was completed in just one week and approximately 70% of costs were reduced. Such a useful piece of wood was then erected to help enable mobile services. In consideration of the total population, the operator can hope to recoup the investment in three years.

A New Horizon for Rural Mobile Users

One interesting point was that one particular engineer involved in the deployment of a base station was immediately notified of an insufficient balance for mobile services after the process was complete. The village chief used Mobile Money to show his appreciation to the engineer with a quick recharge. It is so amazingly funny that the engineer himself became the first to benefit from the deployment of the new base station.

The village chief has vowed to ensure strong protection for these equipment as it has meant so much to him and other people in his village. Afryea is already starting to long for network connections for computers so that she can begin teaching local children how to use computers.

* All names have been changed to protect privacy.