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Nigeria gets biofuel-powered base stations

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MTN, the GSM Association (GSMA) and Ericsson have joined forces to establish biofuels as an alternative source of power for wireless networks.

A pilot project has been set up in Nigeria and the first plant will open in six to eight weeks while the remainder will be introduced incrementally.

MTN CTO Karel Pienaar says the project will not initially be a costly exercise. However, should it prove successful, it could turn out to be a substantial investment in the long-term.

As many of the MTN base stations - especially those in rural areas - rely on generators, the company is using millions of litres of diesel a month. In addition, logistics are a considerable cost component.

Pienaar says 90% of base stations in Nigeria rely on generators running off diesel, as only 25% of Nigeria is connected to the electricity grid. However, it is impossible to predict what sort of savings will be seen through the project, he notes.

Other endeavours the company is keen on include a less power-intensive form of cooling at base stations. Pienaar says this drops power consumption to under a quarter.

Sustainable benefits

Using biofuels to power base stations will also aid the community, he says, as they would be enabled to produce the fuel.

Pienaar adds that there is also potential for biofuels to be used in SA, as MTN sets up base stations in more rural parts of the country that do not have access to the national electricity grid.

"In order to reach the next billion mobile users, we need to reach lower-spending segments of the population profitably," says Bert Nordberg, executive VP of sales and marketing at Ericsson. "By using locally-produced biofuels, we could significantly lower the cost of operating mobile base stations in rural areas."

Biodiesel, Pienaar says, will also lighten the impact on the environment, as it will reduce the amount of sulphur being released into the atmosphere. It also results in fewer site visits and extends the life of the base station generator, reducing operator costs.

The pilot project, supported by expertise and funding from the GSMA`s Development Fund, Ericsson and MTN, will kick off in Lagos and will move to rural regions of south eastern and south western Nigeria.

"The extension of mobile networks into rural areas is vital to boost the social and economic welfare of the developing world," says Rob Conway, GSMA CEO.

"Biofuels have the potential to make that happen by giving mobile operators local access to a commercially and environmentally sustainable power supply."

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