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Alternative Energy Networks at Mobile World Congress; Haiti Benefits

Continuing from a posting earlier this week, another clean energy initiative discussed at the World Mobile Congress was the case for off-grid base stations.
A particularly compelling panellist was Tom Bryant, vice president of procurement at Digicel, which happens to be the leading MNO for Haiti. Apart from his plea for helping rebuild Haiti’s communications infrastructure and thanking the companies who are doing there part, he explained how virtually all base stations in Haiti were powered by local generators from the start and, in general, how Haiti’s cellular network is very robust and environmentally resilient due to existing harsh conditions like hurricanes and the countries energy infrastructure limitations.
One interesting fact and lesson is that because of this, many Haitians have maintained connectivity, which wouldn’t be the case if the same tragedy occurred in the States, for example. The off-grid nature of the base stations and the fact that Digicel (News - Alert) is one of the first MNOs to offer its customers solar powered cell phones were key. In fact, Haitians with Nokia (News - Alert) versus ZTE solar phones lost all connectivity since they couldn’t charge their phones through the grid.
Another speaker on this panel was Jagbir Singh (News - Alert), CTO of Indian MNO Airtel. India, much like Haiti, runs most of its base band stations using off-grid generators. Jagbir explained how Airtel (News - Alert) is really pushing itself and its equipment providers to optimize base stations to run using less than half a kilowatt of power and without air conditioning, thus enabling solar plus storage to be the primary generators for off-grid cell stations.
A point raised by Stephanie von Friedeburg, head of Telecoms at the IFC, was that even if we set aside the eminent need for the telecoms industry to do its share in meeting sustainability, just looking at it from a short term business perspective, operating costs matter today because of the rate at which ARPU is reducing. Right now it really matters for operators to save on energy costs.
Overall, the two main points that all panelists agreed on can be summarized by, as Elaine Weidman-Grunewald said “do more for less power” and to ultimatley move to off-grid renewables for meeting both the business needs for reduced operational costs, reduced carbon and energy waste and increased network stability in emerging markets.

Shidan Gouran is co-founder of Intelligent Communications Partners (News - Alert) (ICP), a strategic advisory consultancy focused on the emerging Smart Grid opportunity. To read more of his Smart Grid articles, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Michael Dinan

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