Wireless antenna designer and producer Poynting has developed a subterranean base station solution for Africa, the Sub-T, at a tenth of the size and cost of traditional base stations.

It is predicted that between 2013 and 2017, the consumer mobile traffic needs will grow roughly 80% per year. The big data revolution worldwide also calls for a solution that is easily deployable. According to Poynting CEO Andre Fourie, around 10 times more base stations are required even to service current users in Africa.

“While one base station may serve several 1 000 active voice users, it may be insufficient for 100 active data users as data usage has no limits. Cost versus return constraints of traditional base stations, makes expansion in this way commercially impossible and increasing the amount of traditional cellular base stations is not necessarily a viable option.

“They take up too much space, usually 40 m², are quite expensive and they are not secure against cable and battery theft. Another challenge is to find sites for such proliferation in most urban areas.

“With 80% of the Sub-T buried underground next to a streetlight-pole like mast, the solution gives African operators a viable alternative to expand connectivity and deploy more base stations, at a lower cost, with less power requirements, a smaller footprint of roughly 4m² and inherent security; improving communication and connectivity for Africa,” Fourie adds.

“Our objective was to create a flexible solution that takes current and future, equipment and data usage growth needs into consideration. The integrated tri-sector antenna of the Sub-T makes it possible to install the base station basically anywhere including street corners, private properties and parks.”

Fourie says careful consideration was given to the total cost of ownership.

“In addition to facilitating easy deployment, a smaller solution that allows streetlight poles or flag poles to be used as base stations reduces costs. Additionally we realised that the product needs to be secure against theft, energy efficient, employ natural geo-thermal cooling, present a small footprint, and be adaptable to different equipment and requirements found in Africa.”

Security is a major issue in Africa and further adds to the cost burden. “The Sub-T has all cables ducted from the subterranean enclosure into the pole that houses the antenna with no visible cables or batteries, making it vandal-proof and ensuring uninterrupted connectivity,” Fourie says.

“Lid construction has unique features making locks inaccessible to bolt cutters and the batteries are stored at the bottom of the buried steel-and-concrete clad enclosure, making access to these extremely difficult.”

Poynting currently has Sub-Ts operating in Oudtshoorn and Polokwane, proving successful in African conditions. To date, 19 base stations have been rolled out in the Eastern Cape, creating connectivity in previously unconnected areas.