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Nokia to support initiative to expand rural connectivity coverage in Africa

1st March 2024

By: Natasha Odendaal

Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor

     

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As connectivity in rural regions across Africa lag that of the more populous urban areas, technology company Nokia aims to provide support to accelerate the pace of connectivity in these harder to reach areas.

Nokia, with its broad portfolio of mobile network products, sees a real need to provide rural connectivity coverage services, incorporating energy solutions for sites and sustainable products, as many rural communities remain under- or unserved, says Nokia Middle East and Africa head of Technology and Solutions for mobile networks Danial Mausoof.

Expanding rural coverage has been on the agenda of many governments across Africa for many years, with various universal funds established and licence obligations imposed on telecommunications companies to ensure a certain amount of coverage in the rural areas.

However, low average revenue per user in rural areas hamper more expansive efforts as it is difficult for an operator to invest heavily in the infrastructure required.

Mobile network nonprofit industry organisation GMSA research points to prohibitive costs, lower revenues and complex logistics when deploying mobile Internet coverage in remote and rural areas.

According to the research organisation, those without coverage tend to live in sparsely populated rural areas with difficult terrains, where it can cost up to two times as much to deploy new base stations and is three times more expensive to operate than in urban areas, while revenues can be up to 10 times less.

Despite significant progress over the past several years, with mobile Internet adoption continuing to increase to 57% of the global population, or 4.6-billion people, some 3.6-billion people are still unconnected.

Sub-Saharan Africa, where 25% or 290-million of the population is connected to mobile Internet, remains the region with the largest coverage and usage gaps.

In the region, there is a 15%, or 180-million people, coverage gap – those who live in an area not covered by a mobile broadband network. GSMA indicates a 59%, or 680-million people, usage gap – those who live within the footprint of a mobile broadband network but do not use mobile Internet services.

Discussing with Engineering News & Mining Weekly, Nokia’s rural connectivity expansion ambitions, Mausoof says that the company’s approach to this connectivity challenge is the delivery of ultralow-cost, sustainable and reliable rural solutions.

“We believe, fundamentally, that it is our role to provide connectivity, but we need to make sure that connectivity is not just in urban areas. We want to expand to rural areas where there are many people who remain unconnected,” he explains, noting that Nokia is now able to deploy its mobile technology, including second-generation (2G) and third-generation (3G), in addition to 4G and 5G, in a very lean model into rural areas.

One such solution is Rural Connect, a completely off-grid solution aimed at optimising the total cost of ownership for operators deploying in low ARPU areas.

“Rural Connect is fundamentally something that we believe is a game changer in terms of connectivity, and allowing operators and other infrastructure providers to use ultra-low cost solutions and provide connectivity where it does not exist today and, in effect, bridging that connectivity divide,” he explains.

“We have put a tremendous amount of effort, both from a product portfolio perspective . . . and creating an end-to-end site solution, through multiple third parties when it comes to off-grid solutions, including the use of solar panels and batteries, to take a site completely off grid.”

The company is now moving into the next phase of using wind as an augmented source of energy as well.

As Nokia creates an ecosystem of solutions, another element is managing the deployment and taking a very lean approach of building concrete-less solutions. Describing these as rapid deployable units, Mausoof says Nokia is able to deploy these solutions very quickly with no concrete poured.

Further bringing the price down is the roll-out of sustainable products.

“We want to make sure we are reusing our products where possible and allowing the circular economy effect to come into play.”

Edited by Martin Zhuwakinyu
Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor

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