Vanu, Inc. is a provider of mobile communications solutions that allows mobile network operators to provide service in rural areas or places that lack network coverage. The company grew out of groundbreaking research in software defined radio at MIT and was founded in 1998.
The latest ITU data reveal that some 52% or 3.7 billion of the world’s population currently remain unconnected (ITU, 2018).
Traditionally, operators have come to expect that mobile connectivity investments in remote areas will involve higher operating expenses and lower revenue potential, hence leaving millions without coverage. The overall impact of telecommunications and mobile connectivity on these communities is immeasurable, but clearly telecom enables more efficient delivery of critical services and more rapid identification of needs within rural areas.
In alignment with this challenge, Vanu proposes to close the digital divide by providing new technology solutions and a business model based on small-cell network architecture, wholesale network operations and solar power, that helps existing mobile network operators to service communities in rural areas.
The Vanu business model supports the existing mobile network operators by extending coverage as service and a franchise model. Vanu provides its products and services to local entrepreneurs to establish the infrastructure to serve rural markets nationwide. Vanu’s model also reaches down to the village level where local “franchisees” become the point of contact for the Vanu network in a given village. These village level entrepreneurs have multiple roles: site maintenance, phone charging sales, airtime distribution, sales of WiFi service and technical support.
With this approach, Vanu has combined the right technology with the most sensible business model to ensure no community is left behind in the digital economy. Our network architecture addresses power challenges by utilizing solar power to run network elements, while also leveraging the latest advancements in small cell technologies to extend connectivity to even the most remote areas. To create a model that could sustainably serve customers in rural communities that spend as little as $1/month on telephone service, Vanu needed to rethink all cost elements associated with providing service in remote areas:
•Knowing that diesel is an expensive and high theft item, Vanu designed its networks to run on solar generated power with battery storage. An entire Vanu site takes 90 watts of power to produce a high- power signal (2x10 watts GSM), runs on 100% renewable clean energy and isn't a detriment to the environment.
•Vanu’s solution is a compact carrier grade outdoor basestation, weighing only 9.6kg. The small form factor allows for simplified mounting on poles and alternative structures, eliminates the need to place equipment on the ground; simplifies tower construction requirements.
•Vanu’s network utilizes a latency and jitter tolerant packet- based IP backhaul, enabling the infrastructure to use a wide variety of media for backhaul including microwave, wireless broadband, cable modem, DSL and satellite connections.
•Software radio architecture allows for standards upgrades and bug fixes to be downloaded remotely.
•Maintenance is simplified through remote monitoring and software upgrades. Hardware fixes are simple swap- outs, that do not require specific technical training.
A key factor of the Vanu approach is scalability. The tools Vanu has developed in support of the rural coverage business model were developed to enable rapid scaling of the Vanu small cell solution for rural coverage. It is essential that these tools be available to MNOs in order to minimize the cost and simplify the task of small cell deployments. Vanu's vision of sustainable growth is:
• Enable partners to efficiently plan and deploy profitable rural networks
• Attract third parties to complement MNO network build plans and provide coverage without the need for MNOs to allocate capital.
Vanu has reached an agreement with BSNL in India for the deployment of 1,000 sites in rural parts of in North Eastern India; in addition to Rwanda and India, Vanu systems are also deployed in Ghana, Cameroon, Guinea, Zambia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Mauritania, the U.S., Netherlands, UK and other countries.
The feasibility of the solution gained international attention when Vanu announced in January 2018 that it would integrate its networks with Rwandan operator MTN, allowing for provision of GSM services, including voice and data, which were previously inaccessible to thousands in rural Rwanda. With only the initial sites deployed in Rwanda to date, Vanu has already provided millions of minutes of calls to over a quarter million distinct users who were previously unable to connect. As the company continues to scale and attract new customers, partners and investors. Vanu plans to expand its small cell toolkit and business plan offering to encourage new entrants into the rural coverage market. These new entrants will extend network coverage of MNOs, enabling those operators to achieve better coverage without having to spend their own capital. The new entrants will gain revenue share from MNOs. Operators, in turn, will only incur costs when they are profiting from their new subscriber base. Vanu's proposed toolkit/business in a box will enable the company to expand rapidly into multiple markets by teaming with local businesses and local MNOs to quickly address market needs.
With this innovative approach, the advantages of Vanu model are vast. Whereas Vanu will provide the necessary hardware, software and services for the network, the front-ending players in this setup will be the local population who will be trained to handle management of the system. Not only will this setup generate employment and earning opportunities for the localities but will also provide confidence to the resident population to get involved more willingly, as their own people will share the knowledge with them. This will bring easier communication with high acceptability.
Apart from providing the cellular connectivity, there are other by-products of bringing up the network. Cellular phones can be charged at the Base Stations at minimal charges, internet connectivity with WiFi provisioning can be obtained and many other small-time benefits, which make day to day life easier thus saving valuable time.
At Vanu, we believe the benefits of access to connectivity have an enormous potential for impact. A prime example is the Nyabubare Nasho Hospital in rural Rwanda. This was a hospital that traditionally did not have cell coverage or WiFi. Prior to the Vanu network deployment nearby, the doctors of the hospital could not connect with peers, patients or other hospitals. Members of the rural community couldn’t call for ambulance service, affecting women who were going into labor, needing immediate assistance and yet unable to get to the hospital. Today, the Vanu network site now covers the entire hospital grounds with cell coverage and Wi- Fi. Doctors can use the internet to look up symptoms and correlating treatments, as well as attend to the people of the village much quicker. The ability of the doctors and nurses to consult peers and to have access to information on the web, rather than relying solely on memory or local textbooks at the hospital, has greatly enhanced the treatment of patients.
The potential for impact of connectivity in rural communities are also:
· improved social health of an individual for being able to communicate with family, friends, communities
· Education: using mobile networks, educational content can be streamed, and text books no longer need to be shipped to remote areas. Research and other information sources can be accessed remotely in village communities.
· Health Care: mobile connectivity enables rural communities to access remote care in the form of telemedicine, lowering costs for both providers and patients. Mobile reporting tools enable closer monitoring of epidemiological information, which can have dramatic public health consequences
· More Business Opportunities
· Access to Information
· Improved Living style and standards
· Financial Inclusion: access to mobile payment systems and mobile bank networks will ultimately drive the growth of many new business models and new ventures in rural areas
· E-governance: electronic/mobile reporting, licensing and distribution of benefits can save time and costs, while making it easier to detect and prevent fraud.
· Better connected with the world
Being Connected to serve the UN Sustainable Development Goals
The Sustainable Development Goals are the blueprint for a world in which no one is left behind, and the deadline is 2030.
Under the ‘Broadband catalyzing Sustainable Development’ report of September 2018, it has been stated by Mr. Houlin Zhao, Secretary-General of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), who serves as co-Vice Chair of the Commission that “Broadband infrastructure is vital country infrastructure, as essential as water and electricity networks.”
The Broadband Commission’s targets are:
· Making Broadband policy universal - By 2025, all countries should have a National Broadband Plan or strategy or include broadband in their UAS definitions
· Making Broadband Affordable - By 2025, entry-level broadband services should be made affordable in developing countries at less than 2% of monthly GNI per capita
· Getting People Online - By 2025, broadband-Internet user penetration should reach: 75% worldwide, 65% in developing countries, and 35% in LDCs
· New Employment Dynamics & Skills of the Future: By 2025, 60% of youth and adults should have achieved at least a minimum level of proficiency in sustainable digital skills
· Digital Financial Services- By 2025, 40% of the world’s adult population should be using digital financial services (DFS)
Getting businesses online - By 2025, overcome unconnectedness of Micro, Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (MSMEs) by 50%, by sector
Achieving Gender Equality in access to broadband by 2025
Vanu strives to Connect the Unconnected to the last mile. We believe in today’s digital world, to be unconnected is to be left behind, and we don’t want anyone to be left behind.
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