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Dhaka Tribune

Shifting towards ‘green’ mobile towers

Update : 26 Apr 2016, 08:00 PM
When a sweeping power failure blacked out nearly the whole country on November 1, 2013, the cell sites that connect about 121.86 million mobile phone users in the country were largely unaffected. The vast majority of the Bangladeshi mobile phone operator’s base stations, each of which include a tower and radio equipment attached to it, had backup diesel power because the electricity goes out frequently, and many run on diesel entirely if there is no power grid in the area at all. Now seemingly “dirty” non-environment friendly diesel generators in Bangladesh are being challenged by clean, renewable energy at the sites of mobile towers as solar powered base transceiver station (BTS) is proven to be a possibility in the country. The Malaysia based edotco group which is an integrated telecommunications infrastructure services company providing end-to-end solutions in the tower services sector including co-locations, built-to-suit, energy, transmission and operations and maintenance (O&M) has already built over 300 solar powered mobile towers in Bangladesh. In the country, there are still some rural areas with no commercial electricity supply. Despite this drawback, edotco Bangladesh has managed to set up towers to enable mobile network access services in these marginalised areas. The edotco group has acquired more than 9000 mobile towers in the country and laid out the plan to integrated solar power in most of its towers over time. By the end of 2016, it plans to include the provisions for solar power in approximately 1000 of mobile towers under its management. Mohammad Manzoorul Islam, director, Operations and Corporate Affairs, edotco said that currently the telecom industry requires around 100MW of electricity to run its transmission network. “As a sustainable energy solution, solar energy is increasingly being used as part of the energy mix used by various organisations,” he adds. He said that it is not only reducing carbon emission and saving the environment but is also saving money. Approximately Tk3,000 per month can be saved at BTS sites with grid connection and Tk12,000 per month at off-grid sites where BTS are run by diesel generators. Setting up solar panels involves heavy up-front investment but requires very little maintenance cost. Solar cells have a longevity of 20 years, whereas diesel generators have a life span of up to five years and require regular maintenance and therefore, results in higher maintenance costs. Tower sites that have solar panels are able to supply power up to 4.6 hours a day on average (depending on the amount of sunlight available), causing zero atmospheric pollution as well as zero noise pollution, which generators otherwise produce. The director of edotco said that the consumables such as diesel also add to operational costs of generators. He added that the renewable options become much more viable as the amount of energy needed to power base stations is reduced. The average cellular base station, which comprises the tower and the radio equipment attached to it, can use anywhere from about one to five kilowatts (kW), depending on whether the radio equipment is housed in an air-conditioned building, how old the tower is and how many transceivers are in the base station, he said adding that most of the energy is used by the radio to transmit and receive cell-phone signals. In the last couple of years, the neighbouring country India has been slowly installing and converting its vast array of cell phone towers to renewable energy. The project started in 2010 and already by 2015, they have almost 50% of rural towers running on renewable energy. Solar dominates as an alternative to diesel because of cost, but Indian telecoms are also exploring aggregated renewable solutions (wind and solar, for example), fuel cells and bio-CNG digesters to power base stations. Meanwhile, the industry is working on more integrated chip technology and smaller radios to improve energy efficiency, including units that can turn themselves off when not in use. Alcatel–Lucent, a renowned global company is integrating energy monitoring capability into base stations, which can be used to make real-time adjustments to optimise power use and monitor renewables. If the architecture of mobile networks moves to smaller, more distributed small cells, renewable power could proven to be more attractive in developed and developing countries. Employing smaller cells is a growing movement in the mobile phone industry, which uses much smaller antennas and radios that in turn use far less energy yet allow carriers to increase network capacity.
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