African mobile-service providers are tapping into solar energy to power base stations and connect users in remote areas to mobile networks.
Africa's largest mobile telecommunication company MTN (Mobile Telecommunication Network) and the east African regional service provider Safaricom are using solar energy and bio-fuel, they have announced. MTN operates in 21 African countries, including Zambia, Uganda, Nigeria, Ghana and South Africa.
Lack of access to electricity in rural areas has always been blamed for sparse mobile connectivity in more remote parts of Africa. Mobile service providers have also been unwilling to invest in some areas that have electricity because frequent power failures increase costs.
Solar-energy-powered base stations are already used in Malawi and Morocco where telecommunication equipment manufacturer Ericsson has developed solar-powered base stations for rural areas without access to electricity. And in Namibia the country's mobile telecommunication company, MTC, is trying solar-powered base stations as well.
Ericsson and MTN are also developing a project to power base stations using bio-fuels from palm and pumpkin seeds.
"MTN wants to use clean technologies that are environmentally friendly," said Fred Mokoena, MTN Zambia chief sales and marketing officer.
Statistics from the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) indicate that Africa uses about 30 million liters of diesel every year to power mobile base stations. But ever-rising fuel prices raise operating costs and negatively affect the environment.
The ITU suggests that African governments should help accelerate the continent's mobile-phone connectivity by offering import duty waivers and tax reductions to local companies supplying equipment based on renewable energy to mobile operators.
Two months ago, the Zambian government zero-rated the importation of solar system and other renewable energy equipment to make it easier and cheaper for local companies supplying solar energy equipment in the country.