Connectivity and its ability to change lives for the better is in acute focus this week as 7,000 delegates including government leaders, ICT executives, regulators and entrepreneurs gather in Durban for the ITU World Telecoms 2018 conference and exhibition being held in Africa for the first time.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa delivered the opening address, remembering founding president Nelson Mandela’s belief in the developmental role of technology when he addressed the ITU in 1995. Mandela used that opportunity to call for inclusive connectivity that would leave no one behind.
Twenty three years later that challenge lingers. There are 20 million South Africans who do not use the internet. Ramaphosa emphasized the need for rapid expansion of broadband services as a priority because it is key for economic inclusion.
Push for universal mobile coverage
Universal mobile coverage is an essential service for growth and development. Connectivity has the potential to positively impact and transform lives by bringing benefits in a number of areas like health, education, banking, transport, energy, agriculture etc.
But in Africa, 60% of the total population lives in rural areas and this makes rural digital inclusivity a key factor in Africa’s digitisation.
Obstacles to regionally balanced and inclusive development
In this information era, lack of access to information is an obstacle to development in rural areas. Conversely inadequate rural coverage is due to these areas being viewed as not economically viable.
For mobile operators that are exploring rural rollout strategies, the cost constraints are currently quite inhibitive. It is estimated that the average cost per rural site is upwards of $100,000 in CAPEX and an estimated $9,000 OPEX per year, due to transportation difficulties, lack of transmission and electrical.
This is usually coupled with low population density (2,000 to 5,000 people per site) and lower ARPUs, results in longer return on investment (ROI) cycles that extend to ten years or more.
Technological Innovations Brings a Sustainable Business Cycle
As in many areas, technology always has a key role to play in to lowering cost and increasing efficiency. As a global leading ICT solutions provider, Huawei come up with an innovative site solution, known as RuralStar, which can minimize the TCO of communication site deployment and operation.
In this solution, low-band LTE Relay offers a substitute for costly traditional satellite transmission or microwave transmission which needs direct line of sight between sites. It supports Non-Line of Sight (NLOS) propagation, relaxing requirements on tower heights (12-18m pole can meet requirements, with wooden pole is optional).
The power consumption is also reduced, with six solar panels providing sufficient energy requirements for one site. For the coverage of the typical village with population from 2,000 to 5,000, the ROI can be reduced to 2-3 years compare with the traditional solution (generally it takes 8 to 10 years).
The RuralStar solution also lowers costs due to its easy-to-deploy feature. Construction cost usually accounts for more than 60% of the total cost.
Deploying infrastructure in remote areas can be twice as expensive, while revenue opportunities are as much as 10 times lower, a combination that deeply affects the business case for MNOs to deploy infrastructure.
With RuralStar, deployment takes less than 1 week, which is 75% less compared with deployment of traditional base stations, whose deployment period is usually one month.
Rapid advancements in telecommunications has altered the way people live, work, study and consume entertainment. By reducing the limitations of distance, terrain and time, information and communication technologies are bringing the information and digital world to more individuals, families and organisations especially from remote areas and marginalized communities.
Thanks to technological innovations like RuralStar, digital inclusion is not simply a buzz word, as all the countries are seeking to leverage the enabling and transformative power of ICT to lift their people out of the debilitating cycle of poverty, and unleash their potential to bring a better life for themselves and better future for their nation.
The RuralStar solution is lighting up the world, connecting millions of people, and it has been deployed in more than 40 countries, such as South Africa, Nigeria, Norway, Indonesia, New Zealand and Argentina.
For more information, please visit Huawei online at www.huawei.com/za.
This article was published in partnership with Huawei.