The University of Southampton

Machine learning insight will lead to greener and cheaper mobile phone towers

Published: 27 April 2020
The project will help halve the cost of diesel generation for powering mobile phone towers

Off-grid renewable energy solutions will be introduced to mobile telecom towers in developing countries through a new collaboration involving researchers at the University of Southampton.

London-based Global Tower Solutions will work with machine learning experts in Electronics and Computer Science on the new project funded by the national SPRINT business support programme.

The partnership will develop a solution that is estimated to cost around half that of existing diesel generators, while also improving access to mobile communication services in targeted countries in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

Professor Gopal Ramchurn, Director of the University’s Centre for Machine Intelligence, said: “Mobile phone towers make a significant contribution to CO2 emissions and Global Tower Solutions is looking to decrease carbon emissions through a reduction in diesel powered mobile phone towers.

“Through the SPRINT project, the University will apply machine learning techniques to high- and low-resolution datasets, drone imagery, census data, data from satellite images and other data available around settlements. This will help to define the business case for renewable energy for phone towers which can then be delivered to mobile phone operators to identify the most appropriate renewable energy sources and which regions need mobile communications the most.”

Mobile communication has been shown to be a key factor in relieving poverty by providing access to information and financial services that drive trade, education, reduction in poverty and better health. The project will also lead to the reduced use of diesel and improved sustainability of small businesses that underpin developing economies.

Mark Eastwood, Chief Executive Officer of Global Tower Solutions, said: “The renewable energy market has evolved over last 10-12 years and we set the company up 3-4 years ago with the aim of moving from diesel generation towards solar power and storage. We wanted to remove the diesel generation price point using sustainable, non-polluting storage solutions, particularly in emerging markets.

“The SPRINT project will help us to explore the impact of renewable generating assets on both telco tower businesses and local communities, using business insights from datasets. Working with the University of Southampton, we can access expertise that can support us in high precision localised intelligence including valuable business insights, topological mapping, individual patterns of usage and movement of local population.”

SPRINT (SPace Research and Innovation Network for Technology) helps businesses through the commercial exploitation of space data and technologies. The £4.8m programme provides unprecedented access to university space expertise and facilities. Southampton researchers are contributing to several SPRINT projects, including a recently announced collaboration with Smallspark Space Systems that is using AI to optimise aerostructure designs.

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