& cplSiteName &

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   >   >>
From The Founder
NFV's promises of automation and virtualization are intriguing, but what really excites service providers is the massive amount of money they could save.
Flash Poll
Live Streaming Video
Charting the CSP's Future
Six different communications service providers join to debate their visions of the future CSP, following a landmark presentation from AT&T on its massive virtualization efforts and a look back on where the telecom industry has been and where it's going from two industry veterans.
Women in Comms Introduction Videos
VMWare VP Brings Women Up With Her

8|16|17   |   6:49   |   (1) comment


It's an art and a science to make mentorship, inclusive leadership, diversity and promotion of high-potential women work, says Honore' LaBourdette, vice president of Global Market Development at VMWare.
LRTV Documentaries
5G Spectrum Wars – The Recap

8|15|17   |   2:22   |   (0) comments


Service provider 3 has filed a lawsuit against Ofcom over 5G spectrum auction in the UK.
LRTV Custom TV
Say What? Facebook Unleashes AI Anarchy – The Recap

8|7|17   |     |   (0) comments


A recap of the week's talking points on Light Reading's sister site, telecoms.com. Facebook AI programmers had a bit of a brain-fade as they allowed one of its AI applications to invent its ...
Women in Comms Introduction Videos
Fujitsu's Women Band Together to Help Girls Do STEM

8|2|17   |   9:35   |   (1) comment


Supporting women both inside and outside of Fujitsu is a top priority of the telecom vendor. Yanbing Li, Fujitsu Network Communication's director of System Software Development & Delivery, shares why it's important, but why there's still a long road ahead.
LRTV Custom TV
If You're Not First, You're Last – The Recap

7|31|17   |   08:18   |   (1) comment


In case you missed it, Amazon's 1% stock increase helped Jeff Bezos dethrone Bill Gates as the richest man in the world. Also, Taiwanese electronics manufacturer
Women in Comms Introduction Videos
AT&T's Tech President Preps Workforce for the Future

7|26|17   |   5:47   |   (10) comments


AT&T is focused on the software-defined network of the future and is reskilling its workforce to get ready too, according to AT&T's President of Technology Development Melissa Arnoldi.
Women in Comms Introduction Videos
Cisco: Mentoring Critical to Attract & Retain Women

7|19|17   |   6:40   |   (1) comment


Liz Centoni, senior vice president and general manager of Cisco's Computing System Product Group, shares why mentoring in all its forms is important for women and what Cisco is doing that's made a difference for women in tech.
LRTV Custom TV
Gigabit LTE With Snapdragon 835

7|12|17   |     |   (1) comment


At an event in Wembley stadium, EE used its live network to demonstrate gigabit LTE using a Sony Xperia XZ Premium smartphone with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 chip.
LRTV Custom TV
Implementing Machine Intelligence With Guavus

7|12|17   |     |   (0) comments


Guavus unites big data and machine intelligence, enabling many of the the largest service providers in the world to save money and drive measureable revenue. Learn how applying Machine Intelligence substantially reduces operational costs and in many cases can eliminate subscriber impact, meaning a better subscriber experience and higher NPS.
LRTV Custom TV
Unlocking Customer Experience Insights With Machine Intelligence

7|12|17   |     |   (0) comments


When used to analyze operational data and to drive operational decisions, machine intelligence reduces the number of tasks which require human intervention. Guavus invested in Machine Intelligence early. Learn about the difference between Machine Learning and Machine Intelligence.
Women in Comms Introduction Videos
Verizon VP Talks Network, Career Planning

7|12|17   |   4:49   |   (0) comments


Heidi Hemmer, vice president of Technology, Strategy & Planning at Verizon, shares how bold bets and the future of tech define her career.
Telecom Innovators Video Showcase
Masergy's NFV Journey

7|11|17   |     |   (0) comments


Ray Watson, vice president of global technology at Masergy, discusses the advantages and challenges in entering the still-maturing NFV market for the past three years.
Upcoming Live Events
September 28, 2017, Denver, CO
October 18, 2017, Colorado Convention Center - Denver, CO
November 1, 2017, The Royal Garden Hotel
November 1, 2017, The Montcalm Marble Arch
November 2, 2017, 8 Northumberland Avenue, London, UK
November 30, 2017, The Westin Times Square
All Upcoming Live Events
Infographics
With the mobile ecosystem becoming increasingly vulnerable to security threats, AdaptiveMobile has laid out some of the key considerations for the wireless community.
Hot Topics
Intel CEO Leaves Trump Biz Advisory Board
Dan Jones, Mobile Editor, 8/15/2017
Are Cord-Cutting's Days Numbered?
Alan Breznick, Cable/Video Practice Leader, Light Reading, 8/14/2017
Orchestration Startup UBiqube Pivots Away From NFV
Carol Wilson, Editor-at-large, 8/15/2017
Verizon Video Woes Pile On
Mari Silbey, Senior Editor, Cable/Video, 8/14/2017
WiCipedia: Dolly Babes, Manifesto Backlash & 'Brotastic' Failures
Eryn Leavens, Special Features & Copy Editor, 8/18/2017
Like Us on Facebook
Twitter Feed
Animals with Phones
We Know a Tough Day When We See One Click Here
Live Digital Audio

Understanding the full experience of women in technology requires starting at the collegiate level (or sooner) and studying the technologies women are involved with, company cultures they're part of and personal experiences of individuals.

During this WiC radio show, we will talk with Nicole Engelbert, the director of Research & Analysis for Ovum Technology and a 23-year telecom industry veteran, about her experiences and perspectives on women in tech. Engelbert covers infrastructure, applications and industries for Ovum, but she is also involved in the research firm's higher education team and has helped colleges and universities globally leverage technology as a strategy for improving recruitment, retention and graduation performance.

She will share her unique insight into the collegiate level, where women pursuing engineering and STEM-related degrees is dwindling. Engelbert will also reveal new, original Ovum research on the topics of artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, security and augmented reality, as well as discuss what each of those technologies might mean for women in our field. As always, we'll also leave plenty of time to answer all your questions live on the air and chat board.