European cellcos are increasingly involved in co-developing flagship devices with their handset suppliers, as they aspire to levels of influence similar to those of their Asian counterparts. The trend is less obvious on the base station side, where platforms are starting to commoditize, but Vodafone has spotted the opportunity to steal a head start on rivals in key areas like rural access, by collaborating with Huawei on developing new base stations.
The first fruits of the two firms' partnership in their joint Radio Mobile Innovation Centre – in Spanish capital Madrid – is a base station for rural access in emerging economies, called the EasyGSM BTS. This reduces cost, complexity and power with an all-IP design and a very compact format that can self-organize, and can be driven using solar power alone.
The 2G base station has been tested initially by Vodafone-controlled Vodacom in South Africa and the parent firm is now reviewing its options for commercial launch in various territories this year. Such a product could be important to reducing the cost and time to market of expansion in India and various African markets: with traditional markets saturating, Vodafone needs to intensify its focus on emerging economies, but even these regions are under economic pressure and are increasingly competitive, so it also needs to expand with the lowest possible capex and opex burden.
EasyGSM BTS promises rapid deployment, radio self-planning and self-optimization, and low power consumption. It weighs just 12 kilograms and provides IP transmission and local switching, reducing transmission bandwidth. Vodafone claims it has the same coverage and level of service as a conventional macro base station.
"Vodafone is pleased to have played a role in developing this innovative new network solution that aims to extend wireless coverage in rural communities across emerging markets," said Andy MacLeod, the cellco's group network director. "As well as offering environmental benefits, the solution could also offer social benefits by bringing connectivity to isolated communities."