This issue of Africa Telecoms is focusing on Green Telecoms and the way forward. What are your thoughts and where do you see the future for this segment of the telecoms industry?
Green Telecoms will take shape in energy efficiency, the use of renewable energy and offsetting/ minimizing of carbon emissions. For example, we will see new ways in which companies and people collaborate and communicate. Unified Communications with tele presence is regarded as green telecoms and will lower the carbon footprint with reduced staff pool travelling. Data storage and data centres are becoming smarter in terms of cooling solutions lowering usage of energy.
The telecoms industry is reportedly responsible for around 2% of global emissions. However, the effects are far greater when one considers personal computing. Do you think cloud computing can be considered a green alternative?
No! However, cloud computing will facilitate reduction in energy at enterprise premises. Personal computing devices are still required to access resources in the cloud. Cloud computing will congregate servers located in ineffi cient micro-data centres at enterprise premises and relocate them into more energyeffi cient data centres.
Looking at cloud computing in Africa, is this a viable solution for the continent considering average broadband speeds?
Leading operators in Africa are tackling bandwidth shortage through deployments of mobile broadband solutions such as 3G (HSPA and LTE). Cloud computing will emerge on a need basis, probably starting with virtualization of systems. Already commercial data centres are emerging in the smallest economies in Africa. The growth and long term viability of cloud computing will depend on the running costs charged to end users.
Considering this, cloud computing requires massive data centre infrastructure generally with huge power requirements for cooling. Currently Africa does not have any green data centres. Do you think there is an investment case for this?
There already are a handful of data centres adopting climatic or ocean water cooling strategies. Teraco is an example of data centre providers that use colder outside air during winter for cooling. Vodacom has a data centre in Cape Town where ocean water is used for cooling. These are some of strategies that can be adopted widely in parts of Africa.
The biggest concern for most operators is the capital expenditure (CAPEX) costs of renewable technologies. Do you think this is a valid concern?
Yes, it is! This is similar to my comment on the viability of data centres, where cost will play a key role. Operators will not install energy generation infrastructure if the CAPEX for adopting renewable energy does not translate into long term savings on the same.
Solar versus wind? What do you think is the best solution for the telecoms industry? Or should it be a hybrid solution?
Wind power can only be harnessed where there are prevailing winds throughout the year; and solar power can only be generated when the sun shines! Some locations in Africa, such as parts of the Western Cape in South Africa, offer good sites for harnessing wind power. In such places it makes sense for signifi cant investments into wind power to be made. Solar power can be effectively used in places with a higher percentage of sunshine in a year. The cost of installing these technologies, as well as the quantity of power to be generated, will play a key role. Operators such as MTN in South Africa are using solar powered base stations to provide cellular coverage in parts of rural areas.
The consumer electronics industry is embracing solar energy with a number of mobile phones, laptops and even keyboards now being made available. Do you think this is a viable solution for extended battery life, and why?
Solar energy is effective in powering low rated devices with an internal rechargeable battery. The solar cells can use the minimum amount of sunlight to power such devices and recharge the battery, hence reducing the frequency with which they need to be plugged into a power outlet. This area of usage will see wider adoption.
Is there any way that the Green Telecoms market can be quantifi ed in terms of spend in Africa? This would clearly be specific to what operators are spending with vendors.
Some level of quantification can be made; however, accurate quantities cannot be determined as yet.
There are a number of vendors making exciting products in the Green Telecoms industry. What do you think the most signifi cant technology is in this field and who is the vendor?
In the mobile industry, vendors like Nokia Siemens Networks are leading in developing energy effi cient base stations (FlexiPacket base station) that don’t require air conditioning and can be powered by solar energy. The base station currently supports HSPA/+ and LTE.
What is the biggest consideration for operators when one looks at sustainable energy solutions?
Short term and long term cost, as well as the reliability of these solutions.
MTN South Africa has a number of completely off grid base stations running on wind and solar solutions. Are there any other examples of operators running these solutions already?
I mentioned MTN earlier, but I don’t know of any other operator currently.
Can the operational expenditure (OPEX) saving generally be quantifi ed; and, in your opinion, can the operators expect to see this saving?
I cannot give a specific figure, but operators mainly adopt renewable energy and energy effi cient sources to lower OPEX. For the solar and wind powered base station, operators save OPEX by not having to refuel diesel generators, which would otherwise be required. By not relying on imported energy, operators avoid the impact of currency fl uctuations on the cost of diesel.
Fuel cells seemed to be the answer in 2010; however, we have not seen many deployments of fuel cells in Africa. Do you foresee this changing moving forward?
Fuel cells are expensive, especially when looking at production of greater magnitudes of power. Developing infrastructure to locally extract the fuel also requires CAPEX. Fuel cells will become viable as an alternative to solar power for use in certain areas. But the time for that is yet to come.
In this issue we are also featuring the sub topic of Mobile Patent Wars. It seems crazy when one looks at the info graphics showing the number of suits. What is your opinion on this and do you think it will ever end?
Patent wars seem to be here to stay. Given that almost any innovation can be patented, the practice will be used more and more to not only protect intellectual property, but also to prevent competitors from using inventions that are genuinely theirs.
Finally, an outside the box question. Personally do you use BlackBerry, Apple, Android or Windows Mobile? Why? And if you could use another, which would it be?
Can’t afford any of these now, but I would use Samsung S II with Android.