ARROW INTRODUCES WIRELESS NARROWBAND NETWORKS TO GHANA

21 September 2001

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Africa’s mobile connections already exceed those provided through landlines. The geography of the continent and the lack of investment by (most) incumbent telcos means that a more diverse pattern of connectivity is waiting to emerge. Kwaku Boadu, Chief Executive of Ghana’s Arrow Networks describes how its wireless networks seeks to overcome current obstacles.

Due to low wealth creation, most African countries lack good and diffused telecommunication infrastructure. Consequently we are unable to introduce networked services like credit/debit transaction systems, remote data gathering, central data depositories (for tax, health etc), and affordable internet access. Service delivery systems are therefore sub-standard and productivity is low, which in turn lead to low wealth creation. This status quo is what we might be called the African telecom quandary.

ANS (http://www.arrownetworks.net) hopes to address this challenge using wireless narrowband. Wireless because of its ease of use and speed of deployment. Narrowband frequencies, so we can guarantee 99.9% reliability and availability and 100% error-free transmission. Narrowband is inexpensive so large networks spanning the entire country can be deployed quickly, as long as applications are written to respect its speed limitations.

What have we done so far?

We have successfully partnered with Racom s.r.o. (http://www.racom.cz) of the Czech Republic, manufacturer of narrowband technology with an 11-year experience as manufacturer and network provider in Europe and Asia. We sold 51% ownership to raise foreign capital and simultaneously gained direct access to Racom’s expertise. We have so far deployed a 900-terminal wide area network for Ghana’s Department of National Lotteries (the biggest WAN in Ghana) to record on-line lottery reciepts. The network, since commissioning in June, has performed excellently, exceeding 99.9% uptime expectations. Our monthly US$50 per link rate compares very favorably with traditional monthly US$350 for copper leased lines, the alternative.

The narrowband technology deployed is called the Morse® MR25®. It is deployed as a meshed anywhere-to-anywhere network on licensed UHF/VHF frequencies. Radio, modem, router and protocol converters are all built into one slim box (84x190x66mm) that only weighs 1,125g (with heat sink). Typical data rate is between 9.6 and 19.2kbps depending on distance and number of clients sharing a multipoint channel. (We however have 128kbps MR25® variants for clients who require broadband transmission). Coverage area is 50-300km depending on landscape and frequencies used. Line of sight concerns are minimal, thus eliminating the installation of high masts at customer premises - short roof-mount poles, or indoor antennas are sufficient.

Applications include point-of-sale networks, Bank ATMs (fixed and mobile), on-line banking, debit card systems, remote sensor data collection, bulk oil/gas pipeline monitoring, tax and bill collection systems, airline ticketing systems, general telemetry applications and low speed/low cost Internet access for under-served communities.

ANS is presently planning a national backbone network based on 8mbps/128kbps broadband variants of the Morse® MR25®. We have successfully raised the first US$1m grant funds for this project. Our intention is to create a low cost national highway to be shared by public and private companies, government and non-governmental organizations for both nation-wide low cost Internet access and virtual private networks.

ANS/Racom are locating a wireless modem assembly plant within Ghana’s free trade zone enclave to assemble MR25® modems in Ghana to further reduce equipment cost to African clients.

Kwaku Boadu, CEO, Arrow Network Systems (info@arrownetworks.net) web: http://www.arrownetworks.net

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