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Vodacom Group

Farming community in Western Cape benefits from green network coverage from Vodacom

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

In order to give a small farming community in the Vleiland Valley cellphone coverage, Vodacom has installed base stations that operate on solar tracking and wind power. The community is situated in a valley between two mountains, which has made it difficult to receive network coverage.  This is the first time that this technology is being used on the African continent.

"Our commitment is to ensure that most South Africans have access to cellphone technology and also to ensure that our operation is built on sound principles of sustainability. In finding a solution for the community of Vleiland Valley, we applied base station technology in a manner that has never been used on the continent before," says Andries Delport, chief technology officer for Vodacom.

Not only do the farmers benefit from normal everyday communication to get information on the industry or to improve productivity, but the network can also be used to automate farm operated pumps, dam levels and irrigation systems. This will give both farmers and the community the ability to farm more effectively.

Up until this time the community had no coverage at all and most of the farmers relied on costly satellite phones to communicate. The farmers have been in talks with Vodacom since July 2006 to find a solution to the coverage problem. However, until recently, there was no such technology that could address the community's needs. "There was not only the problem of the mountain range, but the community is very small so we needed to find a solution that was cost efficient," says Delport.

Two hybrid-type sites were designed to address the challenging conditions of the mountain range, as well as the ability to operate the station without access to grid electricity.

Terzobix, a small company based in Cape Town that designs and manufactures all-in-one renewable and hybrid power systems, supplied the unique green technology for the hybrid sites.

The base stations are identical as they do not require customised design for each site, meaning that expensive site surveys are not required. They also use technology that uses solar tracking and wind power. The units can be adapted for future expansion. 

The solar tracking system uses a programme which operates the panels using international GPS coordinates to move the panels and align with the sun's movements.

"There are many benefits to solar tracking. The planning and design time is drastically reduced as solar tracking needs very little upfront array placement studies, which also further reduces costs. The size of the panel is about 34% smaller than a conventional solar panel as less surface area is required to reach maximum power," says Delport.

Adding wind generation to hybrid sites further helps to improve its capacity in adverse weather conditions. The resulting 3G and 2G coverage for the farming community is expected to grow farming business in the Vleiland area substantially.

"The solution for Vleiland Valley has been a fantastic breakthrough as we can now deploy the same type of base stations in other areas that require innovative, off-grid, low-cost base stations," concludes Delport.

He adds that the same products can be successfully implemented in the rest of Vodacom's African markets in the near future as the sites don't have to be customised to each location.  This means that Vodacom can reduce the time it takes to deploy base stations, increase sales and help reduce the cost of the site.


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