Blending Sun, Satellites and Cellular to Connect Remote Locales

In a lot of places, people would be happy to place a mobile voice call, let alone experience the ecstasy of an LTE wireless broadband connection. At Mobile World Congress, two companies are showcasing systems that blend GSM cellular radios, satellite backhaul, and solar power to bring mobile voice and data to the remotest locations on earth.

Both products are designed to be easily and cheaply deployed, often in just hours, and maintained. They're an alternative to extending conventional GSM or 3G networks by costly fiber, microwave or some satellite connections.

IN PICTURES: What's hot at Mobile World Congress 2011

The first system, a joint effort by satellite communications vendor ViaSat and RascomStar-QAF, an African telecom infrastructure provider, packs into a single crate and can be set up by non-technical staff, with some basic training, in a few hours, according to ViaSat, based in Carlsbad, Calif. The unit can be completely powered by solar panels, and incorporates a range of advanced power-saving innovations.

The GSM radio can route local-to-local mobile calls on its own. Calls to other locations or through a core operator network are handed off to the companion integrated Skylinx Quad for GSM or Skylinx Quad Broadband for 3G radio from ViaSat.

Skylinx is a single-channel per carrier (SCPC) VSAT connection. But ViaSat uses what's called Demand Assigned Multiple Access (DAMA). A DAMA network uses a pool of channels that can be made available to any station as needed, according to ViaSat. The system assigns a channel to complete a call and releases the channel as soon as the call ends, eliminating dedicated station-to-station links. According to ViaSat, the result is that fewer channels are needed, lowering overall costs for the network. A distributed architecture eliminates the need for all calls to be sent to and switched at a central location.

Overall, ViaSat promises lower latency, and greater efficiency and cost-effectiveness for usage of satellite bandwidth for cellular voice, SMS, and data services, according to the vendor.

The second system is the Altobridge lite-site, which is a finalist at Mobile World Congress' Global Mobile Awards for "Best Mobile Technology for Emerging Markets."

Altobridge is based in Tralee, County Kerry, Ireland, with U.S. offices in San Jose.

As the name suggests, lite-site is designed to be efficient, compact, and easy to deploy and run to set up GPRS/EDGE communications in remote locations. The celluar base station has a coverage radius of just over 6 miles. Each active call consumes no more than 4 kbps. The basestation can switch local calls on its own. The system allocates the caller's audio path only when the called party answers, reducing demand on the satellite backhaul. Other Altobridge innovations reduce latency and dropped calls.

PT Indosat Tbk, the second largest mobile operator in Indonesia, is now deploying the Altobridge system at sites in the province of West Sulawesi, on Sulawesi island. In a statement, Indosat says lite-site was chosen to optimize capital spending, minimize backhaul costs, and because of the system's solar-powered design and power efficiency.

John Cox covers wireless networking and mobile computing for Network World.

Twitter: http://twitter.com/johnwcoxnww

E-mail: john_cox@nww.com

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