The last decade has seen mobile telecommunications boom in Africa. One key area of concern is how to extend connectivity to the 60-70% of Africa’s population residing in remote rural locations. For Africa-focused telcos this is both an emerging market opportunity and a logistical quandary. How can effective Site Asset Management, supported by hardware and software solutions, contribute to powering connectivity in rural Africa?

 

MOBILE TELECOMS IN AFRICA – A POSITIVE STORY


The last decade has seen Africa leapfrog the fixed-line phase of telecoms development.

In 2000 mobile subscriptions overtook fixed subscriptions, growing from around 16 million in 2001 to 246 million in 2008. Today the numbers reach beyond 500 million in a market that seems to be maturing.

Market research firms such as PWC1 , Deloitte2 and Informa3 have published extensively on this positive growth story. Investor confidence is high and the opportunities for both consumers and providers in this diversifying emerging market of over 1 billion people are plenty. Mobile telecoms have been revolutionising the second largest continent in the world’s communications landscape and benefiting socio-economic growth, at least for those who have access.

 

REMOTE ENERGY INFRASTRUCTURE IS A CHALLENGE


One key area of concern for industry, government and civil society is how to extend connectivity to the 60-70% of Africa’s population who reside in remote rural locations.

For Africa-focused telcos like South Africa’s MTN Group, Bharti Airtel and Kuwait’s Zain, this is both an emerging market opportunity and a logistical quandary. The cost to benefit ratio of extending operations into remote locations remains questionable.

Two interrelated challenges surrounding energy can be highlighted:

Unreliable or absent grid-power that threatens the 99,95% network up time needed at telecommunication base stations to ensure that services remain unbroken.

Escalating capital and operations costs associated with investing in and maintaining passive energy infrastructure assets in order to mitigate the first challenge.

According to André Claassons, chief operating officer at Zain Sudan, the cost of running a telecommunications base station can exceed the revenue it reaps. Fuel is typically about 40% of a tower’s operating cost. Transporting fuel to remote towers can consume more diesel than is used to power them4. This is not even to mention the daily concern over diesel theft that highlights the importance of remote site security.

Fuel is, however, just one kink in the chain of supplying energy to run all manner of passive infrastructure assets at telecoms towers – e.g. electric fences and air conditioning. The need to ensure that batteries, refractors and generators are in optimal working order highlights the growing necessity for effective site asset management solutions in the emerging market telecoms industry.

 

WHAT IS EFFECTIVE SITE ASSET MANAGEMENT?


An asset is “an item, thing or entity that has potential or actual value for an organisation”5. An infrastructure asset management approach turns the realisation of an asset’s value into a coordinated and systematic activity. The goal of site asset management should be to holistically monitor and control the budgeting, establishing, upgrading and operating of passive infrastructure assets at telecommunications base stations, especially with regard to energy and security.

Effective site asset management benefits from hardware and software that supports remote site monitoring and control:

Remote monitoring devices permit users to maximise revenue from their network assets. They can ensure optimal site operations via the efficient management of generation and storage assets. The ability to monitor and control energy assets on a tower site can help operators avoid unforeseen costs or failures, and better plan maintenance interventions.

 

Management Information Systems (MIS) enable efficient and effective strategic decision-making. Systematic management,  planning and decision-making can be informed when all information is centralised in, and made visible through, a comprehensive and spatially enabled (GIS linked) MIS. With a more complete understanding of their asset landscape, organisations can more effectively manage and plan around maintenance in remote locations.

 

Data Analytics Software enables users to capitalises on the data that they generate and capture via remote monitoring devices. Unlike traditional reports, data analytics offer a sophisticated means to interrogate both real-time and historical data in relation to other data sources, such as market trends or political risk factors, in order to render valuable business intelligence. Aggregated information (intelligence) can better inform decision-making and allow for predictive planning and proactive action.



Effective site asset management is not only of business relevance in emerging markets such as Africa. As the senior World Bank economist, Christine Zhen-Wei Qiang, reminds us, “the mobile platform is emerging as the single most powerful way to extend economic opportunities and key services to millions of people”. Information technology plays an important role in building more visible and transparent societies.

Successful site asset management can help to counteract the broader, global asymmetries of access to information and address what has become known as the “digital divide”.