Poynting develops subterranean cellular base-station

29 January 2014 News

Poynting has succeeded in developing an innovative subterranean cellular base-station solution for Africa, the Sub-T, at what it claims is a tenth of the size and cost of traditional base-stations. The innovation was recently recognised with second prize at the AfricaCom 2013 awards for ‘Best Connectivity Solution for Africa.’

It is predicted that between 2013 and 2017, consumers’ mobile traffic needs will grow roughly 80% per year. The ‘big data’ revolution worldwide also calls for a solution that is easily deployable. According to Poynting CEO, Andre Fourie, around 10 times more base-stations are required even to service current users in Africa. “While one base-station may serve 1000 active voice users, it may be insufficient for 100 active data users as data usage has no limits.

Demo unit showing the Sub-T’s insides.
Demo unit showing the Sub-T’s insides.

“Cost versus return constraints of traditional base-stations makes expansion in this way commercially impossible and increasing the amount of traditional cellular base-stations is not necessarily a viable option,” he continues. “They take up too much space, usually 40 m², are quite expensive and they are not secure against cable and battery theft. Another challenge is to find sites for such proliferation in most urban areas.

The Sub-T buried in the ground next to an antenna mast.
The Sub-T buried in the ground next to an antenna mast.

With 80% of the Sub-T buried underground next to a streetlight-pole like mast, Fourie believes the solution gives African operators a viable alternative to expand connectivity and deploy more base-stations, at a lower cost, with less power requirements, a smaller footprint of roughly 4 m² and inherent security. The system’s integrated tri-sector antenna makes it possible to install the base station practically anywhere, including street corners, private properties and parks.

Fourie says careful consideration was given to the total cost of ownership: “In addition to facilitating easy deployment, a smaller solution that allows streetlight poles or flag poles to be used as base-stations reduces costs. Additionally we realised that the product needs to be secure against theft, energy efficient, employ natural geo-thermal cooling, present a small footprint, and be adaptable to different equipment and requirements found in Africa.”

Security is a major issue in Africa and further adds to the cost burden. To this end, the Sub-T has all cables ducted from the subterranean enclosure into the pole that houses the antenna with no visible cables or batteries, making it vandal-proof and ensuring uninterrupted connectivity. Its lid construction has unique features making locks inaccessible to bolt cutters and the batteries are stored at the bottom of the buried steel-and-concrete-clad enclosure, making access to these extremely difficult.

Poynting currently has Sub-Ts operating in Oudtshoorn and Polokwane, proving successful in demanding African conditions. To date, 19 base stations have been rolled out by MTN in the Eastern Cape, creating connectivity in previously unconnected areas.

“Flexibility is a necessity for all network service providers as all have different equipment requirements, backup power and other specific needs,” says Fourie. Poynting is catering for the needs of two operators in South Africa and one in Zimbabwe. Concept proposals, including diesel generator options, are underway for other African operators.


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