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Sunday, April 12, 2009

Making cost-effective telecom base stations

CHENNAI: Wireless and mobile communication has helped India leapfrog in telecommunications, making phone calls affordable. Can the wireless technology help India do a similar feat in Internet access? The broadband access is increasingly becoming a necessity. Though the total number of Internet users is around 40 million, there are only four million broadband subscribers is only four million. Can broadband access in India catch up with the developed world, if not South Korea and Japan?

The challenge

One of the challenges in the spread of broadband Internet through wireless will be the rapid expansion of wireless base stations (or, towers as they are normally called). The process of building tower infrastructure has been time consuming and expensive. In addition, the equipment used needs air-conditioning and uninterrupted power.

A Bangalore-based company, Sloka Telecom, is addressing these issues, designing smaller and cheaper base stations for broadband wireless and cellular networks. Base station is the electronic equipment that sits next to a tower, transmitting and receiving radio signals for mobile phones or a wireless broadband device.

Package

Sloka Telecom’s 5.8GHz suite of WiMAX (Worldwide Inter-operability for Microwave Access) products caters for the unlicensed frequency spectrum allowing wireless Internet service providers (WISPs) to deploy wireless broadband access networks without having to obtain frequency licences. Sloka’s 5.8GHz suite of WiMAX products includes base stations, subscriber stations, the authentication, authorisation and accounting (AAA) server and the network management system (NMS).

These small all-outdoor base station units from Sloka can be easily installed directly on towers, rooftops, traffic poles and walls. These base station solutions help the operator reduce the capital expenditure by more than 50 per cent, as they do not require air-conditioning.

Currently, Sloka Telecom focusses on WiMAX products and solutions to connect fixed wireless subscribers, such as homes, offices, kiosks, enterprises, schools, and hospitals. It offers point-to-multipoint and point-to-point solutions in both licensed and unlicensed spectrum.

Sujai Karampuri, founder and chief executive officer of the company, says: “The traditional landline business based on copper connectivity took many decades to reach 40 million subscribers, while it took less than a decade for mobile connectivity to connect 200 million subscribers. With wireless, once the network is installed, the cost of adding new subscribers is much lower. The number of subscribers will go up dramatically once wireless connectivity kicks off. WiMAX is the best suited wireless technology and standard to provide broadband to homes, offices, enterprises and other areas. Also, WiMAX links can replace the current microwave backhaul to connect cellular towers — this is going to be a major application.”

Patent-pending architecture

In order to make the base stations smaller, cheaper and less power-consuming, Sloka has developed a patent-pending architecture called the SDBSA (software defined base station architecture). This architecture allows Sloka to use readily available hardware while emphasising efficient software algorithms to make them smaller and more compact. Mr. Karampuri claims that Sloka’s base stations break away from legacy architecture, with emphasis on software.

To design this product, the company has invested around Rs.4 crore. With the launch of this base station, the company hopes to bring down the operators’ cost. This, in turn, will translate into savings by reducing the cost of subscription to end-users. At present, the solutions are being deployed in Brazil, Indonesia and Taiwan. Now it plans to enter the Indian market with some customised solutions of the product. The product has been recognised and awarded by the National Association of Software and Services Companies (NASSCOM).

The idea of creating such a product came when the need for increased throughputs by the end-users and use of higher frequencies arose. The existing architectures used by incumbent players were not suitable for making extremely low cost and compact base stations.

Indian scenario

In India, the company’s solutions are currently under advanced stages of negotiations with large telecom OEMs and service providers. There is already considerable interest from various operators and the company is now poised for trial of its products with some partners in India, North America, Europe, South America and South Asia.

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