Solar-Powered, Wireless Micro-Telecomms Bridge the Rural Digital Divide

VNL Base Station-thumb-350x466-8697 Aiming to bridge the digital divide in India and developing countries worldwide, Vihaan Networks Limited (VNL) has been promoting a wireless micro-telecommunications infrastructure solution that is proving to be low in cost, simple to install, and easy to maintain. Powered by solar photovoltaic panels (PV), it also eliminates the need for mobile telecoms operators to rely on diesel fuel to power wireless base stations and associated infrastructure.

An open-access rural fiber optic network provider and a wireless Internet Service Provider (ISP) have brought Vihaan’s “green” wireless broadband infrastructure to the US. Working with Vihaan, Mid-Atlantic Broadband Communities (MBC) and Gamewood Technology Group have deployed a pilot-scale installation of Vihaan’s WorldGSM Rural Site and Village Site solutions in the rural southern Virginia town of Halifax, the companies announced on Feb. 5.

Green wireless broadband for unserved rural communities

Hollowed out by the loss of furniture and textile manufacturing and tobacco production, southern Virginia business leaders got together with telecoms experts to develop a blueprint to revitalize the regional economy. Mid-Atlantic Broadband Communities (MBC), an independently operated, open-access wholesale fiber-optic network operator, was established in 2004 with support from federal and state government agencies.

Building out its open-access fiber optic network, MBC reached cash-flow breakeven in 2007. In 2010 and 2011, it was awarded $32 million in American Recovery & Reinvestment Act (ARRA) Broadband Stimulus Program grants through the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) to carry out three projects to further extend broadband Internet access across the region, including $16 million to provide broadband fiber network connections to all unserved K-12 schools in southern Virginia.

Looking to enhance the overall sustainability, as well as geographic reach, of its fiber optic network, MBC partnered with wireless ISP Gamewood Technology Group and turned to VNL’s solar-powered WorldGMS Rural Site and Village Site solutions.

“Bridging the Digital Divide is a critical piece of our mission,” MBC president and CEO Tad Deriso added. “We continue to try new things to enable ISP’s to expand their last-mile reach. We believe a solar-powered wireless broadband platform can be a benefit to continue expansion of low-cost wireless broadband services in hard to reach, rural areas of Southern Virginia.”

With mobile telecoms access exploding, India’s wireless network operators are burning an estimated 1.8 billion liters of diesel fuel per year to power their networks, VNL notes. Not only does the company’s eliminate the need to burn diesel, it has drastically scaled down the amount of power, and number of solar panels needed to power a wireless base station. “A single traditional GSM Base Station would require a solar panel covering 200m². WorldGSM™ Base Stations only need two 3m² panels,” VNL states.

Looking to take “a new approach to delivering low-cost, GSM and high-speed broadband to unserved rural communities across the globe,” the pilot test in Halifax will enable MBC and Gamewood “to test the coverage, speed and functionality of unique wireless rural broadband access equipment and evaluate the technology for wider deployment in rural, unserved communities,” MBC explains in a press release.

VNL founder, chairman and CEO Rajiv Mehrotra commented on the pilot program, saying,

“We are delighted to partner with MBC and Gamewood to deliver wireless broadband access in the Town of Halifax, Virginia, USA. This historic and scenic town is such a contrast to the harsh topography of remote areas of Asia, Africa and Latin America, where VNL has deployed GSM and broadband networks. That’s the beauty of a simple, sustainable solution like WorldGSM – it fits in fine, anywhere. Compact and green, it’s showing the way to deliver cost-effective access to unserved communities.”

Added Halifax Town Manager Tom Espy,

“Downtown businesses and visitors to the historic County Seat were accustomed to free Wi-Fi when Pure Internet/Kinex offered the service until the company closed its office 2 years ago. MBC and Gamewood Technologies have provided their wireless expertise, allowing our community to once again possess an enhanced technology which improves the overall business climate and quality of life we seek as part of the town’s ongoing revitalization.”

Image credit: VNL

An independent journalist, researcher and writer, my work roams across the nexus where ecology, technology, political economy and sociology intersect and overlap. The lifelong quest for knowledge of the world and self -- not to mention gainful employment -- has led me near and far afield, from Europe, across the Asia-Pacific, Middle East and Africa and back home to the Americas. LinkedIn: andrew burger Google+: Andrew B Email:

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