MWC 2014: Vodafone Foundation Squeezes Cellular Base Station Into A Backpack

Max 'Beast from the East' Smolaks covers open source, public sector, startups and technology of the future at TechWeekEurope. If you find him looking lost on the streets of London, feed him coffee and sugar.

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The Instant Network Mini will be used to quickly establish communications in the aftermath of natural disaster

Vodafone Foundation, the charitable arm of the British telecommunications company, has developed a cellular base station that fits into a backpack.

The Instant Network Mini weighs 11 kilograms, can be deployed in just ten minutes and has been designed for aid workers and other staff operating in areas hit by natural disasters. It was created by Vodafone Spain in partnership with Huawei and humanitarian organisation Telecoms Sans Frontières.

A truly portable network

Exif_JPEG_PICTUREThe Instant Network Mini’s GSM base transceiver station connects to a host network over a satellite connection, and creates a 100-metre bubble which can support up to five concurrent calls, and send and receive thousands of text messages.

All of this can be stored in a hard-wearing backpack that fits the major airline hand luggage guidelines and Vodafone says the base station is simple enough to be deployed by non-technical staff.

The Foundation has been using ‘Instant Networks’  for several years, but the equipment must be carried in several suitcase sand the equipment has a combined weight of around 100 kg. This includes an antenna, a foldable mast, an industrial computer and a base transceiver station, all powered by a portable generator. It takes 40 minutes to set up, but provides connectivity in a 5km radius.

Instant Networks have been used in South Sudan, Northern Kenya and the Democratic Republic of Congo and most recentl, they had been deployed to help the victims of the Typhoon Haiyan, which raged across the Philippines at the end of 2013. Using such networks, the Vodafone Foundation enabled 1.4 million text messages and 443,288 calls in 29 days.

“The Vodafone Foundation Instant Network has enabled thousands of people to reconnect with their loved ones,” said Andrew Dunnett, director, the Vodafone Foundation. “Vodafone Foundation Instant Network Mini is simple and quick to deploy and will be particularly valuable to those humanitarian workers without any other means of communication.”

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