Light Reading

The Telecom Firm That Lives Dangerously

Robert Clark
News Analysis
Robert Clark
2/28/2014
100%
0%

It's hard to think of more unappealing business destinations than Afghanistan, Iraq, and South Sudan -- but it's the sheer difficulty of operating in such locations that attracts Frontier Tower Solutions.

Dubai-based Frontier has built a business operating cellular towers in some of the world's most dangerous locations. It began as a unit of Afghan Wireless Communications Company (AWCC), and is now owned directly by AWCC's Florida-based parent, Telephone Systems International.

One part of the business is the engineering side of any network buildout; RF planning, network design, site selection, and so on. But its real expertise is in keeping a mobile network in operational mode no matter what the conditions, a critical role in areas where effective communications can save lives.

"A lot of it -- 85% -- has to do with power. The rest of it is security," says chief operating officer Christopher Lundh. He describes the company's business as "operating where there is no grid, keeping them supplied with fuel and running 24/7."

To minimize the truck rolls, Frontier uses solar as much as possible, and about 80% of its sites in Africa are solar-powered. But solar doesn't work so well in Afghanistan, because of the dirty air as well as the northern latitudes.

"There's essentially no power grid, and everyone relies on diesel," says Lundh.

He says the key is finding trustworthy partners. In Afghanistan, Frontier works with a company that supplies fuel in all 49 provinces. In Africa its solar kit partner is, ironically, a diesel engine manufacturer that is also a big supporter of solar.

"Among the principals of Frontier, we have quite a bit of experience in these countries and in terms of contacts among telcos and the Internet. In my case, I have been living and working in Africa on and off for the last 30 years," Lundh says.

"In the time I was in Kenya, I probably trusted five people. That's true in basically all the places where we work."

In Burundi, he hired a person he had previously worked with in Rwanda, and who was trilingual -- English, French, and local languages. "These are the sorts of things I look for."

On the upside, Frontier's business is only rarely troubled by regulators. "In the countries where we operate, there is little to no regulatory supervision," Lundh points out. Virtually the only regulatory issue is visual pollution from the presence of the towers.

Incredibly, in the new country of South Sudan, the two carriers actually operate under licenses issued by the government of The Republic of the Sudan, from which South Sudan separated. That's the least of Frontier's issues in South Sudan, though. Conflict has flared up again in the fledgling nation, making normal operations impossible and leaving fuel air-drops the only way to keep some towers powered.

— Robert Clark, contributing editor, special to Light Reading

(11)  | 
Comment  | 
Print  | 
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View        ADD A COMMENT
Page 1 / 2   >   >>
SachinEE
50%
50%
SachinEE,
User Rank: Light Sabre
3/6/2014 | 1:15:19 PM
Re: The Telecom Firm That Lives Dangerously
danielcawrey, you are right about the costs but these costs are neutralized by some factors. Literal absence of competition leaves the daring service provider with monopoly over the charges of services. People are always willing to pay heftily for new things. What could be more fantastic than carrying a mobile around where there are no mobile phones as yet?
Joe Stanganelli
50%
50%
Joe Stanganelli,
User Rank: Light Sabre
3/3/2014 | 4:30:06 AM
Re: Strange coincidence....
@daniel: That's a fair point, but even bad guys need a communications system too.  In many of these unstable environments, the biggest threat to a tower or other physical network may not come from dissidents but rather an oppressive government (and they have frequently have ways of blocking communications beyond outright physical destruction).
Joe Stanganelli
50%
50%
Joe Stanganelli,
User Rank: Light Sabre
3/3/2014 | 4:27:05 AM
Re: not so dangerous?
@R Clark: Indeed, mobile communications seem to have developed more quickly and in greater abundance in countries lacking good "wire" infrastructure (e.g., circuit-switched networks, broadband, etc.).

I remember when I visited South Korea nearly 15 years ago, when cell phones were still a luxury in the US.  In South Korea, EVERYONE had *at least one* cell phone -- and I do mean everyone.  Even babies had real cell phones hanging around their necks on lanyards.

(Our group even witnessed a lost little girl in busy downtown Seoul get reunited with her mother when the mother called the girl on her cell phone.)
DanJones
50%
50%
DanJones,
User Rank: Blogger
3/1/2014 | 5:37:42 PM
Re: Strange coincidence....
I've seen push towards solar power, no idea how far that's gone yet though...
DanJones
50%
50%
DanJones,
User Rank: Blogger
3/1/2014 | 5:36:31 PM
Re: not so dangerous?
Particularly if you can use the phone as a substitute for a checking account, this is true in the US as well, but it has taken off in Africa and beyond.
danielcawrey
50%
50%
danielcawrey,
User Rank: Light Sabre
3/1/2014 | 3:26:31 PM
Re: Strange coincidence....
It would seem to me that given the energy and security required for towers in these areas that mobile service would be ridiculously expensive. Is that not the case? 

We are always hearing about how the smartphone in the hands of billions of people will change the world. But the fact that in many places getting data to those smartphones could be expensive and dangerous, it may not be as easy as some think. 
R Clark
50%
50%
R Clark,
User Rank: Blogger
3/1/2014 | 4:53:13 AM
Re: not so dangerous?
The underlying story is what an amazingly robust product the mobile phone is. In Somalia in the 2000s there was no govt, no police and no schools but several mobile networks.  Even in a marginal economy with no social or physical infrastructructure there's a business case.
Joe Stanganelli
50%
50%
Joe Stanganelli,
User Rank: Light Sabre
2/28/2014 | 11:18:59 PM
not so dangerous?
Hey, if you have the capital and risk tolerance to handle it, unstable places like Iraq and South Sudan (esp. South Sudan) are gold mines in the waiting!  Not only do you likely face a lack of competition, but you can work towards creating stability as people rely on your services.
MarkC73
50%
50%
MarkC73,
User Rank: Light Sabre
2/28/2014 | 6:54:19 PM
Re: Strange coincidence....
I agree, sometimes its all about perspective.
Steve Saunders
50%
50%
Steve Saunders,
User Rank: Blogger
2/28/2014 | 4:08:38 PM
Re: Strange coincidence....
Amazing story - great original reporting. Fantastic to see this kind of global coverage on LR again.
Page 1 / 2   >   >>
Educational Resources
sponsor supplied content
Educational Resources Archive
Flash Poll
From The Founder
Last week I dropped in on "Hotlanta," Georgia to moderate Light Reading's inaugural DroneComm conference – a unique colloquium investigating the potential for drone communications to disrupt the world's telecom ecosystem. As you will see, it was a day of exploration and epiphany...
Between the CEOs
Affirmed Networks CEO: Digging Into NFV

5|28|15   |   40:26   |   (2) comments


Hassan Ahmed, CEO of Affirmed Networks, is making some big claims for his NFV startup. I sat down with him at the Light Reading HQ in New York City to get the skinny on what this Acton, Mass.-based startup is up to.
LRTV Documentaries
Cable Eyeing SDN for Headend, Home Uses

5|26|15   |   05:57   |   (1) comment


CableLabs is looking at virtualizing CMTS and CCAP devices in the headend, as well as in-home devices, says CableLabs' Karthik Sundaresan.
LRTV Documentaries
Verizon's Emmons: SDN Key to Cost-Effective Scaling

5|22|15   |   03:53   |   (0) comments


For Verizon and other network operators to ramp up available bandwidth cost effectively, they need to move to SDN and agree on how to do that.
LRTV Documentaries
Lack of Universal SDN a Challenge

5|21|15   |   04:51   |   (3) comments


Heavy Reading Analyst Sterling Perrin talks about how uncertainty about SDN standards and approaches may be slowing deployment.
LRTV Custom TV
Steve Vogelsang Interview: Carrier SDN

5|20|15   |   05:02   |   (0) comments


Sterling Perrin speaks to Steve Vogelsang, Alcatel-Lucent CTO for IP Routing & Transport business, about the new Carrier SDN-enabling Network Services Platform and the operator challenges it solves.
LRTV Custom TV
Carrier SDN: On-Demand Networks for an On-Demand World

5|20|15   |   20:52   |   (0) comments


Steve Vogelsang, Alcatel-Lucent CTO for IP Routing & Transport business, talks about requirements and benefits of Carrier SDN during the keynote address at the Light Reading Carrier SDN event May 2015.
LRTV Documentaries
The Security Challenge of SDN

5|19|15   |   02:52   |   (0) comments


CenturyLink VP James Feger discusses concerns that virtualization could create new vulnerabilities unless network operators build in safeguards.
LRTV Custom TV
NFV Elasticity – Highly Available VNF Scale-Out Architectures for the Mobile Edge

5|18|15   |   5:50   |   (0) comments


Peter Marek and Paul Stevens from Advantech Networks and Communications Group talk about their NFV Elasticity initiative and the company's latest platforms for deploying virtual network functions at the edge of the network. Packetarium XL and the new Versatile Server Module: 'designed to reach parts of the network that other servers cannot reach.'
LRTV Huawei Video Resource Center
Bay Area Spark Meetup 2015

5|14|15   |   3:54   |   (0) comments


Developed in 2009, Apache Spark is a powerful open source processing engine built around speed, ease of use and sophisticated analytics. This spring, Huawei hosted a meetup for Spark developers and data scientists in Santa Clara, California. Light Reading spoke with organizers and attendees about Huawei's code contributions and long-term commitment to Spark.
LRTV Custom TV
The Transport SDN Buzz

5|12|15   |   06:01   |   (1) comment


Sterling Perrin, senior analyst at Heavy Reading, speaks with Peter Ashwood-Smith of Huawei and Guru Parulkar of ON.Lab about the evolution of transport SDN and the integration of technologies.
LRTV Custom TV
Next-Generation CCAP: Cisco cBR-8 Evolved CCAP

5|5|15   |   04:49   |   (0) comments


John Chapman, Cisco's CTO of Cable Access Business Unit and Cisco Fellow, explained the innovation design of Cisco's cBR-8, the industry's first Evolved CCAP, including DOCSIS 3.1 design from ground-up, distributed CCAP with Remote PHY and path to virtualization. Cisco's cBR-8 Evolved CCAP is the platform that will last through the transitions.
LRTV Custom TV
Meeting the Demands of Bandwidth & Service Group Growth

5|1|15   |   5:35   |   (0) comments


Jorge Salinger, Comcast's Vice President of Access Architecture, explains how DOCSIS 3.1 and multi-service CCAP can meet the demands of the bandwidth and service group growth.
Upcoming Live Events
June 8, 2015, Chicago, IL
June 9, 2015, Chicago, IL
June 9-10, 2015, Chicago, IL
June 10, 2015, Chicago, IL
September 29-30, 2015, The Westin Grand Müchen, Munich, Germany
October 6, 2015, The Westin Peachtree Plaza, Atlanta, GA
October 6, 2015, Westin Peachtree Plaza, Atlanta, GA
All Upcoming Live Events
Infographics
Procera has gathered facts, stats and customer experience feedback from a survey of 540 users from across the globe.
Hot Topics
10 Alternate Uses for Tablets
Eryn Leavens, Copy Desk Editor, 5/22/2015
Bidding War for TWC Looks Likelier
Alan Breznick, Cable/Video Practice Leader, 5/22/2015
Charter Seals Deals for TWC, Bright House
Mari Silbey, Senior Editor, Cable/Video, 5/26/2015
Eurobites: Alcatel-Lucent Trials 400G in Czech Republic
Paul Rainford, Assistant Editor, Europe, 5/26/2015
Potholes Lurk in Indian Smart City Project
Gagandeep Kaur, Contributing Editor, 5/22/2015
Like Us on Facebook
Twitter Feed
BETWEEN THE CEOs - Executive Interviews
On May 29th 10 AM ET, Steve Saunders, founder and CEO of Light Reading, will be drilling into the "pains and gains" of NFV with Saar Gillai, SVP & GM for NFV at Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HPQ) (HP). He has defined a four-step NFV model describing a sequence of technology innovation. It's a must-read doc for any network architect looking to get to grips with their NFV migration strategy. Join us for the interview, and the chance to ask Saar your NFV questions directly!
Hassan Ahmed, CEO of Affirmed Networks, is making some big claims for his NFV startup. I sat down with him at the Light Reading HQ in New York City to get the skinny on what this Acton, Mass.-based startup is up to.
With 200 customers in 60 countries, Stockholm-based Net Insight has carved out a solid leadership position in one of the hottest vertical markets going in comms right now: helping service providers and broadcasters deliver video and other multimedia traffic over IP networks. How has Net Insight managed to achieve this success in the face of immense competition from the industry giants?
Cats with Phones