Experimental network connects Zambia’s most remote

Range Networks, a leading U.S.provider of commercial open-source cellular systems, announced this week that it had successfully deployed an experimental cellular network in Southern Zambia.

A US provider of open-source cellular systems announced the successful rollout of an experimental network to connect a remote village in Southern Zambia. (Image source: rural scene from Shutterstock.com)

The Mobility Management and Networking Laboratory (Moment Lab) at UC Santa Barbara chose Range Networks Snap Network and OpenBTS software to provide voice and SMS service in the sprawling village of Macha. The team used the deployment to study rural cellular networks and serve as a proof-of-concept project for future deployments in Zambia and other remote regions.

The average income of the community is reportedly around $1 per day.  The network was set-up as a free service, using open source software, to study the feasibility of low-cost systems to potentially cover billions of people around the world without cellular access.

While commercial cellular providers covered parts of the village, large areas of the village and surrounding region had no communications infrastructure. No traditional provider would offer service to the entire area given its low population density and income levels.  The Range Networks Snap Network and OpenBTS software were leveraged to setup two strategic sites capable of covering an area of 35 km in just two days.

The deployment provided the remote village with the capability of making and receiving local calls and sending and receiving local SMS text messages. Additionally, the network allowed for outgoing global calls and outgoing global SMS text messages on a trial basis.

The network uses free open-source software and generic wireless IP backbone, and operates as a self-contained local loop replacing the need for expensive cellular-grade interconnections, hardware and software. The low-power consumption incurred by the SNAP base stations further reduces the cost associated with power and maintenance. Additionally, the network operates remotely and is maintained by local resources, reducing downtime.

Mariya Zheleva, PhD student, UC Santa Barbara, said: “Networks such as this one can be used to improve healthcare, education and support of local businesses. Through its OpenBTS software and its low-cost equipment, Range Networks provided us with the resources we needed to bring communication to this remote region. Service for low-income, low-population density areas, such as this Zambian village, is now a possibility.”

David Burgess, CEO, Range Networks, co-inventor of the OpenBTS Project, said: “In partnering with universities like UC Santa Barbara we have enabled communication in remote communities around the globe, bringing affordable cellular service to those disconnected from each other and the rest of the world.”

* Image via Shutterstock

Staff Writer