Power Off-Grid Mobile Networks and Universal Connectivity: A New Business Case
The accelerating drive for universal mobile access, for people and increasingly for connected vehicles and objects, means that expansion of the cellular network is outpacing that of the electricity grid.
According to the GSMA, the number of off-grid base stations is expected to rise from 320,000 in 2014 to 390,000 in 2020, while base stations with unreliable power will rise from 700,000 to 791,000 in the same period. This increase puts pressure on the business case for rural mobile, both for independent tower companies and mobile network operators (MNOs).
One of the most significant cost elements in deploying a remote base station is power, and so there is growing demand for a new power solution for offgrid and poor-grid base stations. Network deployers need to improve on the economics of off-grid and poor-grid sites while meeting environmental and quality of service targets.
Alternatives to the dominant solution, diesel, have often addressed some, but not all, of the operators’ requirements. Solar and wind power are environmentally strong but costly to roll out, for instance. Even hydrogen fuel cells, the fastest growing solution, have the downside of high fuel and operating costs, because infrastructure needs to be built to distribute the hydrogen and the logistical costs are high in remote areas.
Operators are making heavy investments in solar, wind, fuel cell and battery technologies. By 2022, over 40% of off-grid and poor-grid base stations, in most regions, will be powered by alternatives to diesel. However, a survey of tower and network operators by Rethink Research found that most would invest more rapidly in a new solution if it addressed all their top five requirements:
- Fuel costs below those of diesel (targeting
- Operating cost reduction of at least 25%
- Unlimited and fully reliable power
- Environmental targets especially no emissions
- Safe disposal
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