RascomStar-QAF, ViaSat launch rural GSM system

RascomStar-QAF, Africa's satellite operator, has partnered with ViaSat to provide a low-power, integrated GSM backhaul system designed to allow operators to push services to rural areas at lower costs than ever before.

The satellite-based system will allow operators to extend their networks to areas with sparse populations, no electricity and low spending power -- factors that discourage investors from investing.

"The GSM unit costs between $25,000-$30,000 compared to normal GSM [Global System for Mobile Communications] base stations that cost $100,000, and the operator is expected to pay costs of electricity; this technology makes investment in rural areas more attractive," said Faraj Elamari, the CEO of RascomStar-QAF.

The system is expected to serve areas with a few subscribers to a maximum of 10,000. The unit can come as voice-only or with broadband capabilities, depending on operator preferences. RascomStar-QAF is a collaboration of 56 African countries and private investors, and operates a satellite beaming to all countries.

ViaSat has been working with RascomStar-QAF on other rural telephony projects and expects to work with operators and regulators to make it easier for single-hop communication between countries.

"The best thing with the GSM unit is that billing is per minute and operators get [an] integrated billing system on the VSAT platform; local operators are able to monitor and manage their network with access provided by RascomStar-QAF," said Harry Stribos, sales director at ViaSat.