Thursday, 12 December 2019

Huawei RuralStar 3.0, successor of RuralStar 2.0 Lite, coming in 2020


At MWC 2019, Huawei announced RuralStar Lite, the successor or RuralStar 2.0. The press release says:

At the Mobile World Congress 2019, Huawei released an innovative rural network solution, RuralStar Lite. This solution is specialized to cost-efficiently bring voice and mobile broadband (MBB) services to rural villages with a population of 500 to 1000 people while keeping the return on investment (ROI) period within three years for operators.

Huawei released the RuralStar solution in an effort to bring mobile connections to these unconnected rural areas. This solution has reached more than 90 networks worldwide, serving to provide mobile access for hundreds of millions of people. For most of them, it's the first time in their lives they have ever enjoyed access to the mobile world thanks to this solution.

Picture source: maxwireless on Twitter

Boasting three significant innovations, RuralStar successfully addresses a number of long-standing issues of network development in rural areas where transmission is difficult to reach, infrastructure is costly to build, the power supply is unstable, and deployment requires a long time to complete. For operators, the ROI period can be within three years for a rural network that covers more than 1000 users. To expand connections to unconnected villages having a population of 500 to 1000 people, Huawei released the RuralStar Lite solution to accommodate the local service characteristics of few connections and small coverage areas.

RuralStar Lite features a power consumption of as low as 200 watts. Fitted with four solar panels, this solution greatly simplifies power supply. It allows all related equipment to be installed on poles with a height of 6 m to 9 m, without the need to install supporting rods and build fences. With these advantages added together, project costs are significantly reduced and the total cost of ownership (TCO) decreases markedly.

RuralStar Lite has so far been successfully deployed in Zambia. The deployment demonstrates that RuralStar Lite is able to extend voice and data services to 500 to 1000 users in a village covering a radius of 1 km to 2 km. In addition, the ROI period is expected to be less than three years for operators.

Interestingly, there isn't much information available on the solution even after all this time. While this is a good solution and has been promoted by operators like MTN, there isn't much information about the specifications either. Looking at the slide from MTN above, RuralStar is being deployed at Rural sites. As the requirement is to deploy GSM, UMTS and LTE, one assumption would be that the RuralStar can handle all of these. Whether this would keep the radio head as it is or not, I am not sure.


The above picture shows an example RuralStar site deployed by MTN. The deployment uses LTE backhaul so works as a relay. The small problem with this is that a Macro site from Huawei is required for this approach to work. Without a Huawei macro, this site would need another backhaul solution.

There are also other vendors looking at the same market like AMN, IP.Access, Airspan, Parallel Wireless, Mavenir, etc.also looking at providing alternative solutions for the same problem.

MTN is also looking at OpenRAN to improve it's rural coverage footprint. In a recent press release, it announced:

MTN is projecting to deploy more than 5,000 sites in rural areas across its 21 operations, bringing 2G, 3G and 4G connectivity to areas that were previously unconnected. In order to realise this goal, MTN will rely on an ecosystem of partners who will bring their expertise to build and maintain the sites, utilising a full turnkey approach.

MTN operations in Uganda and Guinea Conakry are already benefiting from this technology, as MTN has also partnered with the likes of VANU, Parallel Wireless and NuRAN Wireless to deliver the technology.

As one of the foremost members of the Telecom Infrastructure Project (TIP), MTN carries out solution testing on all hardware and software elements at its state-of-the-art head office in Johannesburg, South Africa. The TIP initiative aims to define 2G, 3G and 4G RAN solutions based on general-purpose, vendor-neutral hardware and software-defined technology.

By continuing to accelerate innovation through initiatives such as OpenRAN, MTN continues to lead the delivery of a bold new digital world, solidifying its position as a leading mobile operator in the market.

Regardless of the approach, mobile users in Africa will ultimately be the winners!

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