Light Reading
Need mobile towers in life-threatening markets? There's a company for that...

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
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
It's clear to me that the communications industry is divided into two types of people, and only one is living in the real world.
LRTV Interviews
The New Wave of IP + Optical Integration

11|21|14   |   04:29   |   (7) comments


At the Alcatel-Lucent Technology Symposium, Heavy Reading senior analyst Sterling Perrin talks about how SDN has reshaped the discussion around packet and optical integration.
LRTV Huawei Video Resource Center
Huawei Highlights at BBWF 2014

11|20|14   |   3:40   |   (1) comment


Broadband World Forum is one of the world's largest telecoms, media and technology events with over 7,800 senior executives from across the globe converging on Amsterdam every year to identify the Next Big Thing. BBWF is an exciting place to meet the entire industry under one roof and identify the latest in network innovation, service optimization and customer ...
LRTV Huawei Video Resource Center
How Will BCMS Stimulate Margin for Broadband Operators?

11|19|14   |   6:52   |   (0) comments


In BBWF 2014, Liu Shuqing emphasizes the value of FMC 2.0 based full service experience by throwing light on the BCMS solution. The underlying principle of this innovative technique is to create network robustness and driving network from connection oriented to ACE – BAND oriented infrastructure, in which applications, cloud, and user experiences will be an asset ...
LRTV Huawei Video Resource Center
SingleFAN3.0: Better Connected Experience

11|19|14   |   3:06   |   (1) comment


At the BBWF 2014, David Hu, the VP of Huawei Access Network Product Line, talked about the future of access networks – SingleFAN3.0: faster broadband, wider coverage, and smarter connection.
LRTV Interviews
Basil Alwan Interview: The Road to Cloud

11|19|14   |   09:09   |   (0) comments


Alcatel-Lucent's head of IP and Transport talks about the migration towards a web-like networking environment, the impact of the cloud, SDN and NFV, and the yet-to-be-announced FP4 chip.
LRTV Documentaries
FairPoint Makes a Fair Point About Analytics

11|19|14   |   1:56   |   (1) comment


The US-based communication service provider gets to grips with advanced analytics, tackling data and breaking down the silos within its own business.
LRTV Documentaries
Analytics Lets C Spire Get to Know Subs

11|19|14   |   3:01   |   (2) comments


It's all about the data for US operator C Spire as it uses analytics to personalize its customer service down to individual subscribers.
LRTV Interviews
Nuage Branches Out With SDN: CEO Interview

11|17|14   |   9:32   |   (0) comments


Sunil Khandekar, CEO of Alcatel-Lucent's SDN-focused unit Nuage Networks, talks about the opportunities and challenges of breaking out of the data center into wide-area networks.
Light Reedy
Telecom Analytics Grows Up

11|14|14   |   1:15   |   (4) comments


The big data analytics debate has moved on from a year ago, with some experts suggesting it's no longer a technology challenge.
LRTV Huawei Video Resource Center
Huawei Compass

11|14|14   |   3:17   |   (1) comment


At OpenStack Summit 2014, Shuo Yang, Huawei Principal Cloud Infrastructure Architect introduced Huawei Compass, the software tool for solving customers' problems on the journey of OpenStack Cloud.
LRTV Huawei Video Resource Center
Huawei's Cloud Strategy in European Region

11|14|14   |   2:56   |   (1) comment


At OpenStack Summit 2014, Dr. Gotz, CTO of Huawei IT in European Region introduced Huawei's cloud strategy in European region.
LRTV Huawei Video Resource Center
Huawei's Contribution on OpenStack

11|14|14   |   5:58   |   (0) comments


At OpenStack Summit 2014, Dennis Gu, Huawei Chief Architect of Cloud Computing introduced the relationship between OpenStack and cloud computing, and Huawei's contribution on OpenStack.
Upcoming Live Events
December 2, 2014, New York City
December 3, 2014, New York City
December 8-10, 2014, Reykjavik, Iceland
February 12, 2015, Atlanta, GA
April 14, 2015, New York City, NY
May 6, 2015, McCormick Convention Center, Chicago, IL
May 13-14, 2015, The Westin Peachtree, Atlanta, GA
June 9-10, 2015, Chicago, IL
Infographics
Irish Telecom outlines the rise of VoIP technology, including its adoption within businesses and their perception of its quality.
Hot Topics
Bell Labs Chief Slams 'Toy' Networks
Robert Clark, 11/19/2014
$38.3M: Ain't That a Kik in the SMS
Sarah Reedy, Senior Editor, 11/20/2014
Do You Have a 2020 Vision?
Dennis Mendyk, Vice President of Research, Heavy Reading, 11/21/2014
The New Wave of IP + Optical Integration
Ray Le Maistre, Editor-in-chief, 11/21/2014
Google, AT&T, BT Unite on Network Data Models
Carol Wilson, Editor-at-large, 11/20/2014
Like Us on Facebook
Twitter Feed