RuralStar was launched in 2017 to reduce the cost of rural coverage. It is designed to provide 2G voice, SMS and mobile money services as well as 3G broadband data services. With low power consumption, new battery technology, easy installation and innovations in both technology and tower design, it shortens the return on investment for operators to less than five years.
Nigeria’s internet penetration rate of 50.2% means that around half of its population are offline. Many villagers lack basic communications and mobile signals are poor, forcing residents to walk several kilometers to make a call. Traditional tower-mounted macro sites are expensive. Annual revenue per user (ARPU) is just US$1-1.5, lengthening ROI to over 10 years. To address this, Huawei teamed up with MTN to deploy Huawei’s RuralStar. What was the result? Site construction costs were 70% lower and ROI is now 3 years. For villagers it means affordable connectivity. There are still 3 billion people in the world who don’t have mobile Internet and over 1 billion households are without home broadband. These are huge numbers, but the digital divide can begin to be closed with innovations like RuralStar.
In Duse, a remote town in Kenya, RuralStar bought 2G and 3G communications for the first time. The effect was transformational: people can now call for ambulance services, which was previously impossible. The nurse can now access online health information to help treat her patients; whilst previously she travelled 20 km to the nearest phone to order new medicines, now she can do this whenever supplies run low. Health reports can be e-mailed instead of carried to the authorities 40 km away.
Previously, villagers reported security as a serious problem with bandit raids all too common. Public security has now improved. Incidents can be reported quickly and the police can mobilize faster.
School attendance has improved because of improved security within the village. Teachers with smartphones have been able to access information online and show videos and other content to students to aid their teaching.
M-PESA from Safaricom became accessible for the first time. Villagers and shopkeepers can use their phones to securely and conveniently save and store money, trade goods, and re-stock their stores. Many workers in Duse have families elsewhere and they can now send money to loved ones. Young people have also been able to apply online for jobs, scholarships and college places that would have been impossible before.