Indian social enterprise, VNL, which makes environmentally friendly telecom equipment for rural markets, was recognized in the m-Business & Commerce category of the 2010 mBillionth Awards. The company has developed the first solar-powered turnkey GSM system customized for rural areas, which will allow mobile operators to tap into a hard-to-reach market profitably. Normal 0 false false false EN-US X-NONE X-NONE MicrosoftInternetExplorer4

In July the Indian mobile technology social enterprise VNL was recognized in the m-Business & Commerce category of the 2010 mBillionth Awards. This follows the company being given the prestigious position of number 39 in Fast Company’s list of ‘The world’s most innovative companies 2010’ earlier this year. The Indian social enterprise?s growing profile is well deserved as it is set to change the lives of billions of rural citizens by giving them access to mobile technology for the first time. VNL makes telecom equipment that enables mobile operators to reach rural markets. Despite multiple challenges the social enterprise has been successful in creating a mobile infrastructure for rural Indians that is both environmentally sustainable and economically profitable.

Until now it has been virtually impossible for people living in remote rural areas in India to gain access to mobile technology. There are multiple challenges faced by organizations wishing to deliver mobile technology to rural India. Two of the key challenges are those of power and of access. The vast majority of rural India is not served by the power grid. Many communities are extremely remote and have very poor roads and little or no infrastructure. In some cases power is provided by generators that run on diesel. Besides the cost and environmental impacts of diesel generators, the combination of poor fuel quality and poor maintenance limits the life of a generator to an average of just two years. VNL’s answer to these two problems of power and access was to develop small, low power (100w) Base Stations that run off solar power. They can be easily flat-packed into two bullock carts thus allowing for rural style transport.

The innovative technological and design features VNL have employed have allowed the social enterprise to access and set up mobile base stations. However it is also their attention to the social challenges that has showed outstanding service. In rural areas of India the majority of people are on very low incomes and are limited in their education. Firstly VNL designed their base stations so that they could be set up easily by unskilled field staff who may not be able to read or write. No trained telecom engineers are needed to install the stations. They simply need to be pointing southwards and switched on. Secondly VNL have designed their technology to be low cost and with near zero maintenance needs. They call it microtelecom and compare it to microfinancing. Subscribers can pay for mobile services at around $3 a month.

This radical bottom up approach taken by VNL will certainly bring dramatic change to the lives of millions of rural Indians. What?s more is that the system developed by VNL has the potential to be rolled out in other areas of the world facing similar challenges. Green companies and social enterprises alike can learn a great deal from the approaches taken by this innovative organization, which has quietly and sustainably re-engineered the mobile telecoms system.


Photo credit: Steve Evans