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Sun Powers Startup's GSM System

3:00 PM -- Startup equipment vendor Vihaan Networks Ltd. (VNL) thinks it has the answer to bringing GSM cellular coverage to the masses of rural India. The Indian-Swedish firm has unveiled a range of solar-powered GSM base stations that will be shipped to rural villages in India in flat packs, IKEA-style.

According to VNL's Website, "the base stations are erected in days by non-engineers and powered by the sun."

Unstrung met with VNL's CEO, Anil Raj, recently and he explained that the aim is for anyone to be able to install these GSM base stations and systems. "There will be no written instructions, so anyone, even illiterate people, can install these. The instructions will be all pictoral," he says. "They run on solar -- the only maintenance is wiping away the bird droppings."

VNL will put its new DIY GSM base stations and systems to the test at the end of the third quarter when Indian cellular tower provider Quippo Telecom Infrastructure Ltd. -- which supplies towers for Spice Telecom and Tata Communications Ltd. -- will test the equipment with live commercial traffic somewhere in Punjab. The operator that will participate in the trial is likely to be Spice.

Aligning the microwave transmission sites will be the most difficult task for an Indian villager with no engineering training, admits Raj. For this complicated procedure, VNL relies on technology used in cars that alerts drivers when they're too close to an object. In a similar way, a series of beeps and, finally, a single tone will alert the installer when the radios are aligned.

VNL's World GSM base stations use between 35W and 100W of power, compared to 3,000W for a typical GSM base station, and the solar panels measure between 6 and 8 square meters. The village base station will cost about $3,000, according to Raj, and cover one village with 100 people.

Raj even envisions villages owning these base stations in a cooperative and sharing revenue with the mobile operator. "[The products] open the possibility for operators to experiment with new business models."

VNL has received $125 million in private funding over the last four years and has 270 employees, 30 of whom are based in Stockholm and the rest in New Delhi.

— Michelle Donegan, European Editor, Unstrung

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