Vodafone, Ericsson test feature to make rural mobile coverage cheaper

By allowing three antennas to share one radio unit, operators can expand networks to remote parts of the world

Ericsson and Vodafone in Egypt have successfully tested a new way to build more energy-efficient networks in rural areas, and make it possible to build networks where they previously could not be built, according to the vendor.

In parts of the world where electricity isn't readily available and diesel generators are relied on, any improvements in energy efficiency are seen as interesting, according to Anders Lindblad , president of the Middle East and Africa region at Ericsson.

The feature which Ericsson calls Psi-Coverage was successfully tested in Vodafone Egypt's 3G network uses one radio unit that connects to three antennas, instead of one for each antenna. The end-result is a 40 percent drop in power consumption, according to Ericsson.

The drawback is that base stations with the new antenna configuration don't have the same capacity. But in rural areas, the capacity of a traditional configuration is not necessary. Also, the removal of two out of three radio units doesn't equate to the capacity dropping by two-thirds, thanks to a booster used on the uplink, Lindblad said.

"One of the largest problems in many of my countries, including Egypt, is that the economy in covering hard-to-reach areas is tough. Also, many countries don't have funds to incentivize operators to cover everyone," said Lindblad.

But the savings that are possible thanks to the lower power consumption means that operators can afford to build out networks to rural areas where that hasn't been financially viable, according to Lindblad.

The name of the feature is symbolic, after the letter "psi" in the Greek alphabet, which has the shape of a fork with three teeth, according to Ericsson.

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