Bridging the digital divide with user friendly off-grid power and private LTE
The covid restrictions brutally showed that in 2020 access to digital services is a prerequisite for some of the most basic human rights - and even the richer countries experienced severe issues. According to NFER in the UK around one quarter of pupils experienced IT challenges when trying to participate in remote education. Imagine what the figure is in Africa, e.g. in Namibia, where schools were also closed and all of a sudden messaging applications served as link to the teachers.
Connecting students to schools is a great use case - but it was definitely not on the list when the Fusion Grid project set up their pilot off-grid power system in Oniipa, Namibia. Luckily the system provides electricity and connectivity, two of the three prerequisites for connecting to education. Phones seemed to be available locally.
Connecting patients to healthcare is another no-brainer. Checking web pages for medical advice or phone numbers to call is a standard routine - provided you have access to the Internet. Three billion people do not have that luxury.
We believe today a consumer friendly combination of off-grid power and simple private LTE is the fastest way to bring modern life to remote communities that do not satisfy the business case requirements of the highly centralized power companies and telcos and may still wait for many years for being put on the network extension plans of the big players.
The Fusion Grid approach serves very basic unmet needs. The desire for working or reading after sunset without the toxic smell of kerosine, better sleep as well as information and entertainment put lightning, electric fans and radios to the top of the shopping list for families who just got access to electricity.
Private LTE means regular low cost LTE phones can be used. Then there is the local core - in practise a small appliance housing the core network as well as local services, such as messaging and voice calls, or content caching for education applications. The possibility to run some of the services locally greatly reduces the requirements and cost of connecting to the Internet.
Oh, why not Wifi? Building Wifi coverage in an area where there is no electricity is difficult. In practice you need an access point and power in every building. There are many active components, many backhaul links and still limited coverage. Setting up an LTE small cell device next to the solar panels is much easier - and you can make it serve the whole village. This we have exercised many times with Nokia Kuha.