blueEnergy works to create a more equitable, sustainable world


Installing a Solar powered Cell Phone Tower in TikTik Kaanu, a Rama Indian community

By John Reinke -- On Tuesday morning, May 8th, our team of three installers and one observer headed south from Bluefields on board a high speed panga. We were en route to TikTik Kaanu, a Rama Indian community located on the banks of the Rio Kukra, several miles south of Bluefields and upriver from the sea. Our cargo consisted of all of the components needed to install a solar powered cell phone tower.

The installation team was composed of blueEnergy's chief engineer Jorge Lopez, his assistant Alex Blyath and engineer Fausto Perez Valdivia from Telcor, the Telecommunications and Mail Institute of Nicaragua. TikTik Kaanu is actually 20-year old Alex's home, and his father Balbino is the patriarch of the community. Alex speaks creole English as well as Spanish. He was my "go to guy", whenever my limited Spanish was insufficient for good communication.

Upon arrival, we hauled the equipment up the river bank to a nearby thatched roof residence and shed, which was built up off the ground. Without further ado, the team immediately set about determining the strongest spot for signal reception, such that it would also be in close proximity to the shed. The shed would house the control panel and battery backup, as well as the GSM pay phone that would be used to make phone calls to the rest of Nicaragua and Central America.

Jorge (l) and Fausto (r) check signal strength

The best location was ultimately determined to be a few meters from the side of the shed away from the river. After attaching the antenna to the top of the 6 meter mast and the solar panel two meters below it, the entire structure was hoisted into a vertical position and then threaded into a foot square metal support base that had previously been sunk into the ground. This was accomplished with the aid of several of the village residents.

View of the cell phone tower before
the guy wires have been attached

Work resumed after a break, during which we drank fresh juice from coconuts that Alex lopped open with carefully placed blows from a machete, exposing an opening to the center about the size of a quarter.

Satisfied customer wears a coconut milk moustache

Guy wires were attached to two metal rings attached to the mast about one third and two thirds of the way up from the base. These were then secured to metal hooks that had been pounded into the earth in an arc of 120 degrees from each other, a few meters outward from the base. One guy wire was attached to the corner of the shed at the roof line.

Insulated wires that were separately attached to the antenna and the solar panel were run over to the shed at the roof line, and from there into the shed, where they were attached to the GSM pay phone and the battery backup control system.

Jorge explains the control panel monitoring
the solar panel and battery backup

Inside the shed, Jorge, Fausto and Alex busied themselves installing the control panel that monitors the battery as it is charged by the solar panel. They also connected the GSM pay phone and wired up the sockets for two low-power CFL (compact fluorescent light) bulbs. One of these was placed in the center of the shed and the other outside, both controlled by an on-off switch at the entrance door.

Alex completes the wiring inside the shed

Additionally, an extension conduit was buried under the dirt between the shed and the nearby thatched roof home, so that it could also have the benefit of lighting in the evening hours. Inside the home, plastic conduits routed the electric wires around to CFL sockets positioned inside and outside the abode. As darkness fell, we had our first opportunity to see the lights in action.

The installation was completed the next morning. Jorge offered me the chance to make the first phone call using the new GSM pay phone. I successfully made a call to blueEnergy in Bluefields, and spoke with a staff member in the office. A sign offering cell phone service was affixed to the outside wall of the shed. Calls within Nicaragua cost about 25 cents per minute, and calls elsewhere in Central America cost about 28 cents per minute.

Price list for calls in Nicaragua and other Central American countries

The mission was completed with the signing of a contract with Telcor by Jose, one of Alex's older brothers, who lives in the adjacent home. It spelled out the terms and conditions under which Jose is to maintain and oversee the use of the system and the GSM pay phone. Jorge went over the contract line-by-line with Jose before he signed it, to insure he understood it thoroughly.

Jorge explains the contract to Jose as his father Balbino looks on

We departed for Bluefields shortly thereafter, feeling very pleased with the outcome of our efforts. The new cell phone tower will facilitate communication between members of the community and the surrounding countryside, and would be a godsend in the event of some emergency requiring outside intervention.

Tik Tik Kaanu residents admiring the new cell phone tower.
Patriarch Balbino is on the far right.


No comments:

Post a Comment