Redmond Tests Hybrid LTE-Satellite Solution During Earthquake Exercise
Thursday, November 21, 2019 | Comments

Kymeta partnered with the city of Redmond, Washington, to test hybrid satellite and Long Term Evolution (LTE) connectivity during the Cascadia Rising exercise in October. The company equipped three emergency response vehicles from the city with a platform that blends satellite and cellular coverage to make communications during a disaster more resilient and reliable.

The Cascadia Rising event simulated an earthquake occurring along the Cascadia subduction zone, and drills took place in several locations throughout the city. Drills consisted of three rounds of activities that tested reaction and response times in cases of limited technology, transitional access to technology and access to advanced high technology.

The hybrid platform intelligently decides what type of coverage — satellite or cellular — is best at that moment and connects responders to that coverage in the background. That background switching was important to first responders in the exercise because it did not require them to take extra steps to maintain coverage while focusing on critical response tasks, said Ben Posthuma, Kymeta connectivity solutions manager.

“We don’t want satellite to be the backup option,” he said. “We want to have a system that intelligently decides what the best option for connectivity is.”

One element of the exercise was simulated cellular network outages to help test the reliability of communications when a disaster has compromised communications infrastructure. As those rolling outages occurred, the solution switched between LTE and satellite depending on what was available or strongest and kept first responders connected, said Posthuma.

“The goal is to have a prepared and resilient community where we have a series of partners that we can depend on to help us respond and recover from an incident,” said Pattijean Hooper, Ph.D., emergency manager at the city of Redmond. “Reliability during an emergency is life-critical access. When you need to get people to a hospital, get access to medication or connect individuals to essential services, the first question is do I have the information channel to do that. Connectivity is the first element of response operation.”

While a large-scale disaster offers an obvious use case for the hybrid technology, such hybrid technology offers benefits during normal operations, Posthuma said. For example, in many urban areas where congestion is an issue, the ability to switch between LTE and satellite as coverage availability dictates could make first responders more effective in their performing their duties, he said.

Redmond offers several unique characteristics that made it a good place for testing the hybrid coverage. The city is located in an area between the Cascade Mountains and Puget Sound, and is very forested with some hills and valleys, offering a variety of environments to test the coverage and availability of both LTE and satellite.

Additionally, because of large technology employers such as Microsoft, the population of the city doubles every work day, and thousands of international travelers visit the city each week, meaning hundreds of different languages are spoken in the city, Posthuma said. Because of this, it’s important that emergency responders are able to communicate in multiple verbal and nonverbal languages. Translation apps can help bridge this gap and allow first responders to communicate in a variety of ways, making LTE coverage and the ability of infrastructure to host apps important during critical situations.

The solution uses Ku-band satellite coverage. Ku-band satellite service relies on low-earth orbit (LEO) satellites that provide several benefits to critical communications compared with geostationary satellites, Posthuma said.

The closer proximity of LEO satellites to the earth reduces latency in the coverage, and smaller beams allow for improved spectrum reuse, he said. Additionally, the nature of the LEO satellites’ orbit compared with geostationary satellites provides improved coverage for critical operations.

“Geostationary are always in the same spot in the sky, which works for Dish and DIRECTV, but it’s a bit challenging in a mobile environment,” said Posthuma. “The farther north you get, the lower the angle, so there is a lot more blockage.”

Meanwhile, the lower orbit of the LEO satellites and large number of them orbiting the earth means that there’s always at least one overhead to provide connectivity, Posthuma said.

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