VNL launched world’s first mobile infrastructure running on solar power

Areas Used

  • Development
  • Industrialization

VNL launched world’s first mobile infrastructure running on solar power

Vihaan Networks Limited (VNL), a telecommunications company in India, wanted to find an inexpensive, environmentally friendly way to connect rural communities to mobile networks. After a close cooperation with WSI, in 2009 the company launched the world’s first mobile infrastructure running only on solar power.

VNL develops end-to-end telecom infrastructure products and solutions. In 2004, Rajiv Mehrotra founded VNL to take telecom to the next frontier – connecting the billions of unconnected people across the world. He sees VNL as a catalyst in the transformation of rural communities through telecom.

Standard mobile infrastructure too expensive

At the time, connecting rural communities to mobile networks involved high infrastructure costs and low returns. In addition, the cost of servicing and powering the infrastructure made rural areas unattractive for mobile operators using standard equipment.

VNL wanted to develop a low-cost communication system that did not need to be connected to the grid and required no diesel fuel. The system should also be so simple so it could be assembled by non-professionals.

Developing a solar-powered radio transmission system

VNL commissioned WSI to solve this challenge, which meant designing, developing and testing the necessary hardware and software for the entire rural radio transmission system. WSI created a point-to-point and point-to-multipoint system, based on a proprietary radio protocol, that could cover a large area at a low cost. The point-to-point links have a range of up to 20 kilometers and the point-to-multipoint links have a range of up to five kilometers.

“This was an enormous project, including systemization, hardware and software development, system testing and large-scale field trials,” says David Arnell, Deputy COO and Project Manager. “We were able to successfully meet all of the project’s requirements as a result of excellent engineering skills and good teamwork.”

Challenges for the project included: designing the radio transmission nodes for low power and passive cooling in an extreme environment, optimizing Linux OS for low latency, and designing a proprietary radio protocol to keep system latency to a minimum and keep radio base stations synchronized. All of this required massive system testing. The end result of this work enabled the launch of VNL’s solar-powered WorldGSM™ network.

Rural communities get network coverage for first time

Thanks to the WorldGSM network, rural areas got mobile and internet access for the first time, helping them improve the quality of their lives. The VNL base stations could be built in just days with untrained labor, and mobile operators could still earn a profit.

“A VNL base station consumes less than 50W, less than a normal lightbulb, and it can operate on two small solar panels,” Rajiv Mehrotra, Chairman and CEO of VNL. “The panels are connected to a backup battery, so if there is one day of sunshine, then three days of no sunshine, the system works perfectly all right.”