Clear Blue sets sights on establishing power play in Amazon jungle and beyond

There’s a key piece of the “internet for the unconnected” puzzle that Clear Blue Technologies International is providing, and that’s smart off-grid technology to power these systems.

Clear Blue
Clear Blue's Smart Off-Grid Controller (Clear Blue)

The Toronto-based company is involved in the Facebook-led Telecom Infra Project, where it’s working with Facebook and other TIP members to deliver clean power and remote management capabilities for the TIP OpenCellular solution.

The biggest telco Clear Blue is working with is Telefónica, with whom it's collaborating to provide connectivity to communities in the Amazon rainforest. Its technology has also been installed by Raeanna in Nigeria, and it’s worked with Vanu to connect customers in rural Rwanda.

Being associated with a telco as big as Telefónica is a big win for a company the size of Clear Blue, and that’s just fine with CEO and co-founder Miriam Tuerk. But she does foresee a day when the company expands to other big telcos after proving itself with Telefónica.

While the past couple of years were all about pilots and trials, this year will see more of the big rollouts start to kick in, she told FierceWirelessTech.

“We’re starting to see the movement from smaller early stage projects to bigger infrastructure rollouts,” she said. “We’re seeing a lot of movement of the satellite players. Satellite and Wi-Fi is suddenly becoming a big program,” particularly in geographies where it’s hard to get a license to offer cellphone service.

“We’re starting to work on solutions for 5G. I’m hoping that we’ll start to do some pilots for 5G this year, talk to some of the U.S. operators in that area,” she said.

With 5G, operators are expected to deploy more cells on more street and other infrastructure—things that are not always easy or affordable to reach with power cables, either in rural or urban areas. By powering 5G infrastructure using wireless power—such as solar-driven systems that are managed via remote cloud-based controls—operators can deploy in more locations at a lower cost, and most operators are interested in cost savings.

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Last year, Clear Blue delivered its Smart Off-Grid technology to Telefónica and Mayu Telecommunications to power a mission-critical network for the city of Atalaya, located in the Amazon jungle. That meant carrying equipment by hand for over three hours to reach the mountaintop destination where the systems were installed.

According to Bloomberg Businessweek, each tower receives microwave transmissions from an adjacent tower in a chain leading back to a grid-and-internet-connected network operations center. Each tower maintains cell coverage within a radius of about 2.5 miles by using solar panels, batteries and specialized hardware and software controls.

The pilot deployment in the Amazon is an early element of Telefónica’s “Internet para todos,” or “internet for all,” program that will offer connectivity to 100 million people in rural Latin America who don’t otherwise get internet access. Since Atalaya is in the environmentally sensitive Amazon region and not connected to the electric grid, it was critical that the network operate independently and with high reliability.

Tuerk said that’s what Clear Blue’s technology provides: high reliability without the high costs associated with traditional power systems. Clear Blue’s Smart Off-Grid technology also offers predictive weather forecasting and the ability to optimize systems remotely, reducing the need for technicians to travel to sites for updates or repairs. Bottom line: It saves money.

On the smart city front, Clear Blue is supplying its solar-powered streetlights in places like Toronto, where the system also hosts neighborhood Wi-Fi. It has also delivered Smart Off-Grid Power Packs to power lighting at 51 intersections in North Dakota.

With just over 40 employees, Clear Blue was created with a vision of delivering clean, managed, “wireless power” to meet the power needs for lighting, telecom, security, IoT devices, and other mission-critical systems. It boasts thousands of systems under management across 34 countries, including the U.S. and Canada.