RuralStar Ghana project targets potential 4.5m disconnected
Huawei has announced a partnership with Ghanaian operators on the RuralStar Ghana project to deploy 2 016 RuralStar base stations in remote regions across the country.
Speaking at the company’s Mobile World Congress (MWC) Shanghai 2021, which runs until 25 February 2021, David Guo, President of Wireless Site Product Line, said the objective is to increase mobile coverage in Ghana from 83% to 95% “and bring previously unconnected communities online for the first time.”
Abraham Kofi Asante, CEO of Ghana Investment Fund for Electronic Communications (GIFEC), said the country is mainly an agrarian economy and there are 4.5 million people in rural areas that are not covered by networks.
The main challenge is that rural coverage remains an unattractive proposition for mobile network operators because of the high cost in Capex (capital cost for infrastructure) and Opex (operational cost).
Rural residents are essentially low-income earners said Asante, and therefore operators struggle to justify commitment based on uncertain ROI.
Huawei believes it has a solution in RuralStar Pro, which was launched commercially at MWC Shanghai 2021.
The solution requires 120 watts to run and offers internet access and backhaul transmission using a single module.
According to Asante, previously establishing a new site for communications would have cost approximately US$100,000 and could only provide 5% coverage.
The RuralStar Pro is said to offer 85% coverage with peak throughput at 30Mbps.
Four hundred sites have been deployed in Ghana in February. These accommodate 1 500 users per site with an ARPU of US$2 per month, equating to ROI in less than three years.
Huawei and partners say the business model is sustainable, with the government creating Special Purpose Vehicles (SPVs) that rent spectrum and transmission from MNOs, and build RAN and core networks.
The MNO is responsible for the operation of the site, while Huawei provides the RuralStar Pro technical solution. Finance is via a third party bank, according to Huawei.
The objective to deploy 2016 sites and provide network coverage for 3.4 million people is expected to be completed by mid-2022.
Also presenting at the event, Huawei's Deputy Chairman Ken Hu spoke about the huge impact that COVID-19 has had on countries, enterprises, and people around the world, as well as the role technology plays in combating the pandemic.
Hu said: “Innovation isn't just about solving the challenges we face today. It's about lighting up tomorrow. Once we get the pandemic under control, we need to think hard about how we can innovate to improve quality of life, make businesses smarter, and create a more inclusive world." He explained that, while unequal access to digital technology and digital skills has widened the digital divide, the pandemic has made the situation significantly worse. "We have to focus innovation on bridging the gap between the haves and have-nots, and on driving digital inclusion".
Stakeholders believe RuralStar Ghana Project will reinforce initiatives rolled out to develop e-health, e-education and e-commerce.