India to plug in solar-powered telecom towers

Rural areas outside the reach of mobile phone network will get off-grid, solar-powered base stations designed for low-cost and battery storage.

A solar-powered mobile phone base station in Rajasthan, India. Shashwat Nagpal/VNL

The high-powered schmoozing at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, has yielded a project to install solar-powered cell phone towers in India.

Vihaan Networks Limited (VNL) and lithium ion battery maker Boston Power today announced that VNL will test the small-scale telecom stations with Boston Power's batteries. VNL had originally developed the system with lead acid batteries.

The communications-based stations, called WorldGSM, are designed to operate entirely from a few solar panels and are not connected to the grid. The Boston Power batteries can power the tower, which can be set up in half a day, for up to three days without sunlight.

The idea for the upgraded product came about at last year's World Economic Forum where the CEOs of both companies met after winning "Technology Pioneer" awards.

VNL calls the WorldGSM towers a "microtelecom" product because they are designed for the billions of people who live in rural areas outside the mobile phone network's reach. VNL says these customers typically spend less than two dollars a month on mobile phone service.

Coupling storage with cell phone base stations makes sense in many places where connecting to the grid is a challenge or adds significantly to the cost. The WorldGSM base stations are being tested now and are set for deployment in different areas this year.

Updated on January 26 at 11:04 a.m. with correction regarding that base station's batteries.

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