Zambia Gains Rural GSM Phone Coverage


South African wireless communication specialist Multisource Telecoms has won a contract that will see 20 low-cost GSM towers bringing cell phone communications to rural Zambians for the first time.

Supplied by US-based Vanu, these Compact RAN base stations are both optimized allowing them to operate purely on "green power", solar and battery only.

"The order was placed following a successful pilot phase which proved that in addition to the capital outlay being less than a tenth of that of traditional macro base stations, maintenance costs of the compact base stations are minimal," said Richard Smuts-Steyn, chief executive officer of Multisource.

The decision to extend GSM network coverage to Zambia's isolated rural areas followed a call by the country's telecommunications regulatory authority for network operators to fulfil their universal service obligations.

Lack of GSM network coverage in deeply rural areas is not unique to Zambia. Worldwide there are an estimated 3.2 billion unique subscribers, 1.8 billion short of the 5 billion addressable market expected by 2017. The vast majority of this potential market is based in rural areas, especially those in the developing African nations, not serviced by cell phone networks.

"Compact base stations are a particularly apt solution to the constraints inherent in rural areas," said Smuts-Steyn. "Being solar and battery powered, they don't rely on the existence of a terrestrial power grid, generators or a constant supply of diesel, and the need for good road access to deliver the diesel is eliminated."