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Showing posts with label Rural Communications. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Rural Communications. Show all posts

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Mobile can help with United Nations SDGs, only if prices go down

I came across this interesting article in WSJ, courtesy of the Benedict Evans newsletter, which discusses how Indians are using their smartphones even more and consuming far more data than they previously did. Due to low incomes, spending money on mobile top-up is to the detriment of other sectors. To quote the article:
“There was a time when kids would come here and blow their pocket money on chips and chocolate,” said Anup Kapoor, who runs a mom-and-pop grocery shop in New Delhi. These days, “they spend every last rupee on a data recharge instead.”

United Nations have created 17 very ambitious Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that universally apply to all, countries will mobilize efforts to end all forms of poverty, fight inequalities and tackle climate change, while ensuring that no one is left behind.
The SDGs, also known as Global Goals, build on the success of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and aim to go further to end all forms of poverty. The new Goals are unique in that they call for action by all countries, poor, rich and middle-income to promote prosperity while protecting the planet. They recognize that ending poverty must go hand-in-hand with strategies that build economic growth and addresses a range of social needs including education, health, social protection, and job opportunities, while tackling climate change and environmental protection.
I have talked about Rural connectivity on this blog and a lot more on small cells blog. In fact the heart touching end user story from Rural England was shared multiple times on different platforms. GSMA has done a good amount of work with the rural communities with their mobile for development team and have some interesting videos showing positive impacts of bringing connectivity to rural communities in Tanzania (see here and here).

While you will always hear about the challenges in bringing connectivity to these rural communities, all technological challenges can be solved. There are many highly ambitious projects using balloons, drones, creating droneways, Helikites, Satellite backhaul, drone based backhaul, mmWave backhaul, etc. The real problem to solve here are the costs (spectrum, infrastructure, etc.) and the end-user pricing.

Coming back to the first story of this post about India, when given an option about selecting mobile data or shampoo, people will probably choose mobile data. What about mobile data vs food? While there are some innovative young companies that can help bring the costs down, there is still a big hurdle to leap in terms of convincing the operators mindsets, bureaucracy, etc.

To help explain my point lets look at an excerpt from this article in Wired:
It’s the kind of problem that Vanu Bose, the founder of the small cell network provider CoverageCo, has been trying to solve with a new, ultra-energy-efficient mobile technology. Bose chose two places to pilot this tech: Vermont and Rwanda. “We picked these two locations because we knew they would be challenging in terrain and population density,” he says. “What we didn’t expect was that many of the problems were the same in Rwanda and Vermont—and in fact the rollout has been much easier in Africa.
The good news is that things are changing. Parallel Wireless (see disclosure at the bottom) is one such company trying to simplify network deployment and at the same time bring the costs down. In a recent deployment with Ice Wireless in Canada, this was one of the benefit to the operator. To quote from MobileSyrup:
A radio access network is one of the key components in the architecture of any wireless network. RANs sit between consumer-facing devices like smartphones and computers and the core network, helping connect those devices to the larger network.  
Essentially where the likes of Nokia and Huawei ask clients to buy an expensive hardware component for their RAN needs, Parallel Wireless offers allows companies like Ice Wireless to use off-the-shelf computer and server components to emulate a RAN. The company also sells wireless base stations like the two pictured above that are smaller than the average cell tower one sees in cities and less remote parts of the country.  
Besides reducing the overall price of a network deployment, Parallel’s components present several other advantages for a company like Ice Wireless.  
For instance, small base stations make it easier for the company to build redundancies into its network, something that’s especially important when a single arctic snowstorm can knock out wireless service for thousands of people.
These kind of benefits allow operators to pass on the cost reduction thereby allowing the price reduction for end users. In case of Ice Wireless, they have already got rid of roaming charges and have started offering unlimited data plans for the communities in Canada's North.

Finally, to quote David Nabarro, Special Adviser of the United Nations Secretary-General on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development from the GSMA 2016 Mobile Industry Impact Report: Sustainable Development Goals:
Achieving the SDGs demands new technologies, innovations, and data collection that can integrate and complement traditional statistics. A driving force behind this data revolution is mobile technology. 
Mobile phone technology has already transformed societies around the globe, even the poorest countries and communities. It is helping to empower women, create jobs, spur financial independence, improve education, boost agriculture production, and promote better health. Mobile phones have enabled communities to monitor elections, hold governments accountable, and save lives in natural disasters. 
As we focus on implementing the Sustainable Development Goals, the mobile industry has a critical role in working with governments and the international community to expand connectivity, to lower barriers to access, and to ensure that tools and applications are developed with vulnerable communities in mind. 

With 5G just round the corner, I hope that the operators and vendors will be able to get their costs down, resulting in lower end-user prices. That would be a win-win for everyone.

*Full Disclosure: I work for Parallel Wireless as a Senior Director, Strategic Marketing. This blog is maintained in my personal capacity and expresses my own views, not the views of my employer or anyone else. Anyone who knows me well would know this.

Friday, 24 February 2017

Connecting Rural Scotland using Airmasts and Droneways

This week EE has finally done a press release on what they term as Airmasts (see my blog post here). Back in Nov. last year, Mansoor Hanif, Director of Converged Networks and Innovation BT/EE gave an excellent presentation on connecting rural Scottish Islands using Airmasts and Droneways at the Facebook TIP Summit. Embedded below are the slides and video from that talk.

In other related news, AT&T is showing flying COWs (Cell On Wheels) that can transmit LTE signals

Their innovation blog says:

It is designed to beam LTE coverage from the sky to customers on the ground during disasters or big events.
Here’s how it works. The drone we tested carries a small cell and antennas. It’s connected to the ground by a thin tether. The tether between the drone and the ground provides a highly secure data connection via fiber and supplies power to the Flying COW, which allows for unlimited flight time.  The Flying COW then uses satellite to transport texts, calls, and data. The Flying COW can operate in extremely remote areas and where wired or wireless infrastructure is not immediately available. Like any drone that we deploy, pilots will monitor and operate the device during use.

Once airborne, the Flying COW provides LTE coverage from the sky to a designated area on the ground.  

Compared to a traditional COW, in certain circumstances, a Flying COW can be easier to deploy due to its small size. We expect it to provide coverage to a larger footprint because it can potentially fly at altitudes over 300 feet— about 500% higher than a traditional COW mast.  

Once operational, the Flying COW could eventually provide coverage to an area up to 40 square miles—about the size of a 100 football fields. We may also deploy multiple Flying COWs to expand the coverage footprint.

Nokia on the other hand has also been showcasing drones and LTE connectivity for public safety at D4G Award event in Dubai

Nokia's Ultra Compact Network provides a standalone LTE network to quickly re-establish connectivity to various mission-critical applications including video-equipped drones. Drones can stream video and other sensor data in real time from the disaster site to a control center, providing inputs such as exact locations where people are stranded and nature of the difficulty of reaching the locations.

Related Posts:

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Facebook's Attempt to Connect the Unconnected

I am sure that by now everyone is aware of Facebook's attempt to connect the people in rural and remote areas. Back in March they published the State of Connectivity report highlighting that there are still over 4 billion people that are unconnected.

The chart above is very interesting and shows that there are still people who use 2G to access Facebook. Personally, I am not sure if these charts take Wi-Fi into account or not.

In my earlier post in the Small Cells blog, I have made a case for using Small Cells as the best solution for rural & remote coverage. There are a variety of options for power including wind turbines, solar power and even the old fashioned diesel/petrol generators. The main challenge is sometimes the backhaul. To solve this issue Facebook has been working on its drones as a means of providing the backhaul connectivity.

Recently Facebook held its first Telco Infra Project (TIP) Summit in California. The intention was to bring the diverse set of members (over 300 as I write this post) in a room, discuss ideas and ongoing projects.

There were quite a few interesting talks (videos available here). I have embedded the slides and the talk by SK Telecom below but before I that I was to highlight the important point  made by AMN.

As can be seen in the picture above, technology is just one of the challenges in providing rural and remote connectivity. There are other challenges that have to be considered too.

Embedded below is the talk provided by Dr. Alex Jinsung Choi,  CTO, SK Telecom and TIP Chairman and the slides follow that.

For more info, see:
Download the TIP slides from here.

Saturday, 5 September 2009

Farmers worldwide being helped by Mobile Phones Technology

Airtel has entered into a strategic tie-up with IFFCO (Indian Farmers Fertilisers Cooperative) for providing agriculture and allied information to farmers through mobile phones. The facility was formally launched by the Chief Operating Officer (Andhra Pradesh) of Bharti Airtel Limited, Rajnish Kaul, at a function at Anakapalle town, about 40 km from here on Tuesday.

Addressing a media conference on the occasion, he said that the unique facility would benefit over 10 lakh IFFCO society members of rural Andhra Pradesh by giving them access to vital information. The farmer members would be given five free voice messages on farming techniques, weather forecasts, dairy farming, animal husbandry, fertilizer availability and rural health initiatives.

Mr. Kaul said the farmers could also call a dedicated free helpline to get answers from a qualified veterinarian to their specific queries regarding the health of their animals. He said that SIM cards would be provided at subsidised rates and lifetime activation would be done for a mere Rs.47. Calls between the members would be charged at 50 paise a minute. The SIMs would be compatible with any mobile handsets and farmers could buy the handsets of their choice depending on their purchasing power. He said the facility was launched about six months ago in various districts of the State and there were already 65,000 connections.

Question Box provides a service in India and Uganda. In India, phone boxes are installed in slums and villages that connect users to operators that will answer questions. In Uganda, users can call in from any mobile phone and ask their questions. The operators have access to a repository of previously asked questions (and their answers), and they can also occasionally consult the Internet. A special search engine and database were also built specifically for the project.

Another initiative, Avaaj Otalo, provides an audio community forum for farmers in rural Gujarat, India. Working with an organization that produced a popular radio program, Otalo provides a call-in number where farmers can exchange questions and answers. Users are also able to listen to archives of the radio program.

These projects differ in that Question Box avoids having to process users' questions by adding a human listener in the loop; Avaaj Otalo avoids processing by organizing their collection of audio prompts with into a menu. Both programs, however, have yet to deal with the problem of cost because they subsidize the service for users. Otalo operates with a toll-free number and Question Box provides the phones to call from in India. In Uganda, Grameen Community Knowledge Workers provides the mobile phones.

It's easy to see why the fishermen of the southern Indian state of Kerala captured the attention of a Harvard economist when they began using mobile phones a few years ago to track prices in the markets where they sold their catch of the day. Observing how these devices can be used to promote economic growth, Robert Jensen wrote in a 2007 paper titled, "The Visible Hand(set): Mobile Phones and Market Performance in South Indian Fisheries -- The Micro and Mackerel Economics of Information," that "before mobile phones, deciding which [market] would offer the best price was sheer guesswork." With mobile phones, however, suddenly it became an information-based decision. What's more, noted Jensen (who is currently at Brown University in Rhode Island), "it's not a zero-sum trade-off." The fishermen's customers benefitted from lower prices and greater choice, and there was less waste since the fishermen could easily identify the villages that would have the greatest demand for their fish each day.

Now Jensen's "visible handset" is reaching further into rural India. Following a nationwide launch this summer of Nokia Life Tools (NLT), India's farmers can use their mobile phones to access tailored information to help them grow, harvest and sell their crops and manage their livestock. "There is no reason why farmers should not be as successful as fishermen," says Ravi Bapna, associate professor of information systems at the Carlson School of Management in Minnesota and executive director of the Centre for Information Technology and the Networked Economy at Hyderabad-based Indian School of Business (ISB).

Consider Ravindra Shinde, a farmer in Magardhokada, a village in the Nagpur district of Maharashtra. When he recently harvested 125 quintal (a quintal is 100 kilograms) of soybeans and was about to take the crop to market, the price was $32 a quintal. But then he received a message on his handset that soybean production in the U.S. and Argentina had fallen, so he held back and later sold his crop for $48 a quintal.

IN the early 1990s, I was engaged in an empirical research work relating to the nexus between mobile phone and poverty in rural Bangladesh. However, friends used to tease me and raise their eyebrows on hearing about the project and my interest at that time. This was to be expected in the early 1990s when, not to speak of the poor, even the "solvent" could not afford to have a mobile set. It was treated as a "luxury" item, only to be monopolised by the moneyed people.

My research findings on village pay phones of the Grameen Bank at that time -- and as published in international journals in subsequent years -- clearly showed that mobile phones could help the poor escape "rural penalty" (a la H. Hudson), defined as poverty mainly due to distance, poor connectivity and asymmetric information. However, as of today, about 40 percent of the rural households in Bangladesh are reported to have access to mobile phones and roughly one-fourth of the users are poor. Rickshaw pullers, fishermen, traders all use it to minimise information asymmetry and quicken communication between two points.

About a decade later, I was invited to comment on two research papers showing the impacts of mobile phones on farmers and traders in Africa.

The first paper was by Megumi Muto and Takashi Yamano, both representing JICA and Foundation for Advanced Studies on International Development (FASID). They drew upon panel data of rural Uganda where banana producers could reduce marketing costs and raise income with expansion of mobile phone coverage. The message is that the expansion of mobile networks increased market participation and sales of the perishable product, banana. More importantly, small producers and farmers in remote areas gained the most.

As information flow increases due to the expanded mobile phone coverage, the cost of crop marketing is expected to decrease, particularly in remote areas where potential marketing gains from the increased information flow is large. We indeed find that the network expansion has a larger impact in market participation in areas farther away from the district centers than in closer areas.

The second paper was presented by Jenny C. Aker of the University of California, Berkeley, on the impact of mobile phones on price dispersion of grains in Niger. Using a sequential searching model, the researcher observed that cell phones increased traders' reservation sales price and the number of markets over which they searched. This reduces price dispersion across markets. To be specific, grain price dispersion reduced by 6-7 percent and reduced intra-annual price variation by 10 percent.

What is important, and as revealed in both papers, is that every farmer need not possess a set. It could be the community, producers' organisations and others from where the price information could spread, either as a "public good" or as a "private good." A participant from the audience in that seminar informed us that in his village in Africa, a mobile phone is hung from the branch of a tree and interested persons could use it on payment of a fee. Second, even with access to mobile phones, full gains might not be reaped as farmers might need more information. The role of public authority and media in this respect is very important. Again, producers' organisations could form an information forum of their own to be more effective at bargaining than individual initiatives.