Tanzanian MVNO AMOTEL works with TTCL to connect remote villages with voice and data

7 October 2016

Top Story

Tanzania’s Amotel is pioneering a new approach to connecting areas that are unprofitable for big carriers. It is working as an MVNO on the TTCL network and World Telecoms Labs’ Vivada equipment to make it work. Russell Southwood spoke to Simon Pearson and Satya Mekala of World Telecoms Labs about how it’s being done.

The idea for Vivada and rural solutions was already part of World Telecoms Labs portfolio. But says Pearson:”We already had a rural telephony solution before based on data. There was a cyber-café in a village in Morocco for 100 villagers. The problem with the model was that there was not enough money from data”.

So they added a small BTS which gave a GSM connection which could serve the 100 or so phones in the village and it became profitable. Also the system already had cloud based billing.

The basis of the MVNO for the AMOTEL operation in Tanzania is very simple. AMOTEL capitalizes the equipment in the remote locations but interconnects to TTCL, using its network to break out of the remote location.

As Mekala remembers it:”We went to a show in Dar es Salaam and were trying to sell to local operators but they didn’t have the money to do it. AMOTEL was an MVNO looking an interconnect platform and we presented a solution to them. If you can get an operator to allow you to use their spectrum, we can do it.”

TTCL was willing to let its spectrum be used and a business plan was prepared and things moved from there. Every network is a village on its own connected back by satellite to the host network provider, TTCL. All incoming and outgoing traffic goes to TTCL. The projects carried out by the company have been partly funded by Tanzania’s Universal Service Fund. In particular, they were responsible for a proof of concept pilot.

So what’s it cost? The micro-base station, the web-based billing system and two PCs for a cyber-café cost around 22,000 euros. The system has a capacity for 28-30,000 simultaneous calls. Currently AMOTEL is serving 3 villages of 1,500 people, making a total of 4,500 people. There is a BTS in each village and a phone cabin for those unable to afford a mobile phone.

What’s the use pattern so far? 90% of all use so far is voice and there have been some issues with the operator not being able to supply enough SIM cards. The Wi-Fi hot-spot currently gets no use because there are not yet any Internet-enabled devices:”It may be only rich people and students who may be able to use it.”

The voice charging is time based and currently per minute and the data is volume based. It is currently in the process of redoing the prices to introduce the more commonly used per second billing and prices may rise slightly as a result. The service is currently a monopoly in the villages it serves.

So why haven’t the MNOs done this themselves?:”The main MNOs will not build rural networks. It’s too expensive for them and they worry about their brand image in terms of things like the service not working properly. They’re interested in the AMOTEL MVNO option because it means they share OPEX and there’s no CAPEX. And some of them have an appetite for replicating the model.

The countries most ripe for this kind of MVNO. Mekala thinks Tanxania, Nigeria and Sierra Leone but also notes “we have had genuine interest from South Sudan, Gabon and Mauritania.”

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