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 Huawei Video Resource Center
Interview With Rick Talbot, Principal Analyst, Current Analysis

10|31|14   |   2:12   |   (0) comments


At the NFV Open Cloud Forum 2014, Rick Talbot shared his positive feedback about the holistic and open approach that Huawei adopts for SDN and NFV. He also found the open sharing at the event valuable as it features different perspectives from Huawei experts, telecom operators, industry analysts as well as security experts.
LRTV Huawei Video Resource Center
Interview With David Snow, Principal Analyst, Current Analysis

10|31|14   |   2:24   |   (0) comments


David Snow talked about his understanding of Huawei and its SoftCOM strategy at the NFV Open Cloud Forum 2014, saying that Huawei's wide approach combining IT and CT expertise, introducing big data and analytics into solutions and contributing to the OpenStack community particularly resonate with him and make the company stand out in the industry.
LRTV Huawei Video Resource Center
Interview With Roz Roseboro, Senior Analyst, Heavy Reading

10|31|14   |   3:13   |   (0) comments


Roz Roseboro commented on Huawei's data center capabilities and NFV solutions at the NFV Open Cloud Forum 2014, saying that in addition to covering all three key domains of compute, storage and networking, the company also emphasizes the importance of management capabilities and professional services, which are essential in making NFV a reality.
LRTV Huawei Video Resource Center
Interview With Michael Howard, Co-founder & Principal Analyst, Infonetics Research

10|31|14   |   5:25   |   (0) comments


Michael Howard talked about SDN, NFV, and OpenStack adoption at Huawei's NFV Open Cloud Forum 2014. Particularly, he pointed out that Virtual Enterprise CPE is the top NFV use case that operators plan to invest in over 2014 and 2015 to deliver new enterprise services through virtualized functions.
LRTV Huawei Video Resource Center
Interview With Jerry Caron, Senior Vice President, Current Analysis

10|31|14   |   3:11   |   (0) comments


At Huawei's NFV Open Cloud Forum 2014, Jerry Caron from Current Analysis said that orchestration and management are key to realizing SDN and NFV for global carriers, and the approach that Huawei is taking, with its FusionSphere Cloud OS at the core, is in the right direction to address the challenges.
LRTV Documentaries
Broadband Battles

10|31|14   |   01:39   |   (0) comments


This year's Broadband World Forum featured a number of show floor battles focused on access gear, components and coffee.
Jonestown
Mobile Backhaul: Going to the Dark Side?

10|30|14   |   2:26   |   (1) comment


Heavy Reading's Patrick Donegan shares his view on a dark trend that bubbled up at Light Reading's annual backhaul conference in NYC.
LRTV Huawei Video Resource Center
2014 Huawei Electric Power Industry Summit: Interview With CEO of SwitchCom

10|30|14   |   4:13   |   (0) comments


SwitchCom, an IT company based in Angola, recommends a variety of Huawei solutions and hardware to their customers in the energy industry.
LRTV Huawei Video Resource Center
2014 Huawei Electric Power Industry Summit: Interview With Ethiopia's Ministry of Water Irrigation & Energy

10|30|14   |   4:08   |   (0) comments


Gosaye Mengistie of Ethiopia's Ministry of Water Irrigation & Energy discusses the collaboration with Huawei in that country.
LRTV Huawei Video Resource Center
2014 Huawei Electric Power Industry Summit: Interview with Dongfang Electronics Corporation

10|30|14   |   5:46   |   (0) comments


Dongfang Electronics Corporation, headquartered in Chengdu, China, is one of China's largest manufacturers of power generators and contractors of power station projects.
LRTV Huawei Video Resource Center
2014 Huawei Electric Power Industry Summit: Interview with Zimbabwe's Customers

10|30|14   |   3:31   |   (0) comments


Representatives of Zimbabwe's Ministry of Power and Development discuss the energy needs of their country as well as new areas of improvement due to enhanced ICT capabilities.
LRTV Huawei Video Resource Center
2014 Huawei Electric Power Industry Summit: Interview With Colbún Chile

10|30|14   |   4:29   |   (0) comments


In Chile, an aging energy infrastructure was in dire need of a modern update. Claudio Valenzuela of Colbún discusses how Huawei's ICT solutions continue to provide crucial information to improve the grid and how an in-country engineer is a cricial asset.
Upcoming Live Events
November 6, 2014, Santa Clara
November 11, 2014, Atlanta, GA
December 2, 2014, New York City
December 3, 2014, New York City
December 9-10, 2014, Reykjavik, Iceland
February 10, 2015, Atlanta, GA
May 6, 2015, McCormick Convention Center, Chicago, IL
May 30, 2015, The Westin Peachtree, Atlanta, GA
June 9-10, 2015, Chicago, IL
Infographics
WhoIsHostingThis.com presents six of the world's most extreme WiFi hotspots, enabling the most epic selfies you can imagine.
Hot Topics
Microsoft's Skype Embraces WebRTC on IE
Sarah Reedy, Senior Editor, 10/27/2014
FTC Slaps AT&T With Throttling Lawsuit
Sarah Reedy, Senior Editor, 10/28/2014
Wheeler Gets Down With OTT
Mari Silbey, Independent Technology Editor, 10/29/2014
China's MVNOs Hit the Wall
Robert Clark, 10/27/2014
Let's Not Kill SDN & NFV With Silos
Francois Locoh-Donou, Senior VP, Global Products Group, Ciena, 10/28/2014
Like Us on Facebook
Twitter Feed