“We’re introducing this low-cost, low power tower infrastructure into rural areas in Zambia. There’s even a new tower concept using carbon fibre that we’re looking at. So new technology coming into Africa for the first time as opposed to second hand stuff,” Jerling, a special projects director at Connect Africa, told ABN Digital at the Infrastructure Africa conference on Wednesday.
Connect Africa is a social enterprise aimed at promoting entrepreneurship and bringing communication business and public services to rural areas on the continent.
“We’ve been working about three years now with MTN as a partner, integrating that technology into their switching centres and the like. We’ve completed the testing; we’re at a tender phase right now for 169 towers across Zambia,” said Jerling.
“There’s some severe competition for that but we think that the innovative business model that we’re presenting should be of interest. The tender goes in on Friday so we will know within a month.”
The tower infrastructure itself is completely solar-powered. Jerling explained that while integrating the service centre concept into infrastructure is innovative, the structure’s reliance on solar is the most expensive.
“Solar power is very expensive and there are a lot of people around the world working on it. It’s all we’ve got at the moment. There’s isn’t any other alternative energy source that really works for us. Wind is a good one but there’s no wind in Zambia. Solar is the most appropriate,” he said.
Jerling also explained that power is just one of the major constraints in the ICT space.
“The technology developers have a real problem in finding people on the ground that are in the rural areas and our focus is specifically rural so we’re not involved in urban.”