Affordable 3G for isolated villages - in the Amazon rainforest, for example
Even for populations that already had access to landlines, smartphones have revolutionised work and play. Imagine how they could transform life in isolated communities that may currently rely just on rare radio contacts… An EU-funded project developed a low-cost way to provide 3G coverage in remote areas, along with a new business case for operators.
© Photoboyko #169709578, 2019 source: stock.adobe.com
The approach put forward by Tucan3G is intended as a possible solution for the provision of voice and broadband data services to remote communities in developing countries around the world. To demonstrate its feasibility in practice, the partners cooperating in this EU-funded project deployed the proposed technology across two areas in the Amazon jungle, enabling six villages to benefit from 3G services.
Both demonstrators were built along stretches of river in Peru respectively, the Napo and the Paranapura. As of December 2018, the Napo demonstrator which was extended by a new project following the end of Tucan3G in May 2016 now covers 15 very isolated communities, says Álvaro Rendón Gallón, who coordinated the research contributed by Colombias University of Cauca.
They are representative of such villages throughout the wider region, whose residents dont usually benefit from personal communication technology, Rendón explains. Some villages have a public satellite phone, others may have radios for community use and, in some cases, broadcast radio stations have spaces to send personal messages to people in these locations, he adds.
ICT for inclusion
Information and communication are key factors of human development, but ICT deployment in developing countries has been asymmetrical, Rendón underlines. Isolated communities have not benefited in the same way as populations in more densely populated areas, and more specifically cities.
Providing mobile telephony services in underserved areas can produce major socio-economic benefits for their residents and help to reduce disparities between resident communities and the rest of the population, Rendón adds. In emergency situations, it could also save lives. And yet, while the advantages in terms of empowerment and rural development seem obvious, the business case for mobile phone operators has not necessarily been compelling.
Yes, we (Tu)can!
Rendón and his colleagues in Tucan3G tackled the issue from two angles by developing both a suitable technological solution and a sustainable business model for the provision of services to very small populations with low incomes, he explains.
In devising an effective yet affordable technical approach, care was taken to avoid costly components such as cell towers or optical cable. The proposed solution involves small base stations known as femtocells as well as commercial cellular terminals. It connects villages to the core network through a combination of wireless technologies more specifically, WiFi over Long Distance (WiLD) and WiMAX and satellite communication (using ground stations known as very small aperture terminals (VSAT)).
In mobile telephony, all traffic in a cell phone is served by a base station, which is usually visible in towers or the roofs of buildings, Rendón explains. For the latest generations of mobile telephony, the concept of femtocells served by small base stations installed inside homes or businesses was developed to improve the quality of services. This technology was chosen in the project because of its low cost and low coverage, which was very suitable for very small populations.
Femtocells are usually connected to the core network by means of wired access, Rendón adds. In Tucan3G, the link is wireless.
Much of the technical effort in the project was directed to the interconnection with Wi-Fi networks, and to adapting the femtocells for outdoor operation, says Rendón. Further attention focused on the transport of voice and data streams between the Wi-Fi access point and the mobile operators network, he adds. The demonstrators are powered by solar panels.
Along with the Cauca regions university, its centre for productivity and innovation (CREPIC) was also involved in Tucan3G, as were entities in Greece, Spain, Peru and the United Kingdom. The consortium was led by Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya.
Although the disparity of resources available in Latin American universities and European ones makes it difficult to have a balanced participation in the execution of projects, the relationship is very beneficial for both parties and contributes significantly to the quality of research in Latin America, Rendón concludes.