Vihaan Networks Limited (VNL), whi­ch specialises in the design and manufacture of telecom equipment, is playing a key role in deploying telecom infra­­structure in rural and remote areas in India as well as abroad. The company, which has been in operation for about 12 years, has also been at the forefront of research and de­velopment (R&D) in telecom technology.

Recently, VNL completed the roll-out of the world’s largest green mobile network in areas affected by left-wing extremism (LWE) across 10 states under a public-private partnership project with Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL). The project, which was completed in a record time of less than two years, is among the most noteworthy achievements of the company.

Key initiatives in India

The project, which was supported by the Universal Service Obligation Fund, was rolled out in LWE-affected areas in Madh­ya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Bihar, Jharkhand, Ma­ha­­rashtra, West Bengal, Odisha and Uttar Pradesh. Under the project, 10 states, 106 districts and 22,688 villages have been connected. VNL and Himachal Futuristic Communi­cations Limited em­er­­ged as the winners in the June 2014 bidding, when BSNL reten­dered the project following the poor response it received in the first round of bidding in 2013. VNL was awarded 70 per cent of the total contract. It completed the deployment of solar-powered telecom towers in the LWE region by using its indigenously developed technology, products and expertise.

Meanwhile, in a first-of-its-kind initiative, VNL has undertaken a project to provide broadband connectivity in three villages in Rajasthan – Karenda, Phalsa and Bahadari. The company has deployed its WorldGSM BTS solution using solar-powered telecom towers to make these villages into “digital villages” where information and communication technology and renewable energy converge to provide a host of services to the villagers. The solution has been deployed using solar-powered towers that are lightweight, much smaller than the conventional towers and can be erected within a day. In ad­dition to providing basic calling and Wi-Fi facilities, these towers also have a public ad­d­ress system and a remote location camera installed on them. These model villages are being provided internet connectivity through Wi-Fi, which is provided by BSNL without any cost.

Global deployments

Over the past few years, the company has deployed its solutions at rural tower sites across Africa, Bhutan, Myanmar, Bolivia and Micronesia. This wide-scale deployment has been possible owing to the success of its WorldGSM solution, which has been developed to address the challenges faced in rural areas such as the lack of grid connect­ivity, road connectivity and skilled labour.

In the past, VNL has partnered with Africa Mobile Networks for the launch of the latter’s commercial service in Benin. The company has also deployed its equipment at two remote village locations, Zini­do and Dakpiemyli, in the Tamale region of northern Ghana, for MTN Ghana. In Bhutan, VNL has partnered with Tashi InfoComm Limited to provide mobile services to remote villages in the Himalayan region. It conducted its trials in Cham­gang, following which it went on to deploy its equipment in Tshangkha, Thrumshin­gla and Gayzore. VNL has also provided its solutions to Myanmar Posts and Tele­commu­­nications, helping the latter establish a GSM network along the Yangon-Naypyidaw-Mandalay highway. This is one of VNL’s most significant projects, with its solar-powered solutions being deployed along almost 480 km of the highway.

Challenges and outlook

While VNL has executed a number of projects in India as well as abroad, it faces tough competition from foreign vendors. Despite government efforts to promote domestic manufacturing, Indian telecom equipment vendors together account for only 5 per cent market share. As such, competition from large foreign vendors is the primary challenge that the company faces.

That said, VNL has been able to carve a niche for itself in the telecom market by focusing on serving the rural and remote regions. The country still has a large untapped rural potential, with the rural teledensity standing at only 51.24 per cent as of September 2016. With telecom operators still in the process of rolling out their services in rural areas, VNL has ample opportunities for growth going forward.

Moreover, the LWE project will serve as a good example for operators as well as infrastructure providers to convert their existing sites to solar-powered ones. Further, the Department of Telecommu­ni­­cations has issued a mandate to telecom service providers and tower companies to ensure that 75 per cent of rural towers and 33 per cent of urban towers are run on hybrid power (renewable and grid power) by 2020. To this end, VNL’s solar-powered telecom equipment is likely to witness an increase in demand from operators looking at green solutions. Thus, in the coming years, VNL’s solar-run equipment deployments are set to gain momentum in the country.

Mridula Pandey and Kuhu Singh