VSAT Technology Aids in Haiti, Somalia
Wednesday, August 11, 2010 | Comments

 By Lindsay A. Gross, Managing Editor

When disaster strikes, satellite communications are extremely reliable because the only obstructions that can hinder operations are physical objects, said James Ramsey, president of MTN Government Services (MTNGS). “When traditional channels of communications fail at a disaster location, terrestrial networks either stop working or are highly congested,” Ramsey said. “This is why very small aperture terminal (VSAT) satellite communications steps in to restore connections and aid relief efforts following such unfortunate events.”

On Jan. 12, an earthquake left more than 220,000 dead, 300,000-plus injured and more than 1 million homeless in Haiti. According to recent U.N. reports, the quake destroyed 60 percent of government infrastructure and left more than 180,000 homes uninhabitable. The quake also shut down most radio communications and phone services. Before the quake, the impoverished nation had limited public-safety radio communications and only 108,000 fixed wirelines. “After that kind of catastrophic damage, it was necessary for multiple agencies to work together and come up with communications strategies in order to help the people of Haiti and recovery efforts,” said Jamie Barnett, chief of the FCC’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau (PSHSB). One of those strategies included VSAT communications.
A VSAT terminal uses high frequency (HF) radio signals to send and receive information to and from a geostationary satellite orbiting around the equator at 22,300 miles. The satellite translates the signal being received to a different frequency to retransmit it back to Earth. The radio signal carries the encoded information from one point to another, where it is demodulated or decoded so that it may be used by data processing equipment. Once the earth station is established, the physical obstructions have already been taken into account and are no longer an issue, Ramsey said. “The advantage of using a VSAT terminal for disaster response/recovery is that because of its size, the terminal can be deployed almost any place where there is a clear view to the sky — typically south — and power may be made available to operate the equipment, such as RF equipment, modems, routers and computers,” he said.
And VSAT communications have vastly improved during the past several years, allowing terminals to become smaller, according to Ramsey. “This allows for VSATs to be deployed on extremely short notice, and with very little footprint required to establish a highly reliable link from an otherwise unreachable area,” he said.
After the earthquake in Haiti, MTNGS provided Ku bandwidth to the U.S. Army 82nd Airborne Division forces on the ground. The first seven Ku terminals had to be provisioned over a single weekend by MTNGS to enable the option files to be delivered to the field units. Over the weekend, MTNGS completed a link budget analysis for each of the previously unknown VSAT types and groomed the network to create a single 1.544 Megabit in route and option files for the increasing number of VSATs being provided for the troops.
Additionally, during the first days after the Haiti earthquake, MTNGS donated bandwidth to the USNS Comfort so the ship would have managed teleport services to support its humanitarian medical missions while anchored off the coast of Haiti. MTNGS got the network up and transition ships to other in routes to make room for the Comfortbefore it got under way to Haiti with only two days notice, Ramsey said.
VSAT equipment was also recently used in Somalia. MTNGS provided the SeaTel 6006 VSAT equipment and Ku band space for a Norwegian warship assigned to an anti-piracy task force operating off the coast of Somalia. The deployment took the ship from Norway through the Suez Canal and across a wide area of operations chasing pirate vessels, Ramsey said. The ship’s deployment area changed several times during the six-month deployment, requiring regrooming of broadcasts and in routes. “Bandwidth requirements also changed several times, which required ships to move around in different in routes to create room for the large bandwidth required by the ship for high-volume imagery downloads and multiple video teleconferences per day,” he said.
Separately, Inmarsat contracted with Boeing for the delivery of three Ka-band satellites for its next-generation broadband satellite offering and announced six-month financial results. The Inmarsat-5 constellation will enable Inmarsat to provide a global high-speed mobile broadband service offering. With operations expected to start in 2014, Inmarsat-5 will support a next-generation global service, Global Xpress, which will target a $1.4 billion incremental market opportunity in VSAT services. Global Xpress will address the established, growing markets for VSAT services in the maritime, energy and government sectors, as well as developing markets such as the aeronautical sector. The service will deliver mobile broadband with speeds up to 50 Megabits per second (Mbps) to customer terminals from 20 to 60 centimeters in size, the company said in a statement.
Inmarsat estimates that the total cost of Inmarsat-5 and Global Xpress will be $1.2 billion over 4.5 years, incorporating the fixed cost of the satellites, as well as the cost of additional ground network infrastructure, product development, launch services and insurance.
"This is a new investment for new growth. With the Global Xpress network, we will be the first operator to offer global mobile broadband coverage, offering unparalleled speeds and bandwidth to customers in remote locations around the world,” said Andrew Sukawaty, chairman and CEO of Inmarsat.
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