Executives Debate Satellite’s Effectiveness During Japanese Earthquake Response
[Satellite News 03-21-11] Speaking on a broadband panel at the SATELLITE 2011 conference, satellite executives debated the impact of the industry’s response to the March 11 earthquake and tsunami that has devastated Japan.
Opening discussions on the panel, “Satellite Broadband: Ready for Real Market Impact,” centered on what role satellite will play in the relief effort. Thaicom President Nongluck Phinainitisart admitted such disasters were providing the satellite sector with important lessons that could be learned from other space policy examples.
“We have served the Japanese market for around a year. Our gateways have not been impacted, but we will have 50 units of IPStar deployed in this area. However, this is a major issue, and we need to think a little more on the power side,” she said. “China has had an earthquake, and they have realized the importance of satellite. When a tsunami hit Thailand, the terrestrial system was jammed very quickly. We put a VSAT terminal in a helicopter so a search and rescue team could perform search and rescue missions, but we have not covered all the scenarios. This kind of situation needs satellite. We need power and easy-to-deploy solutions. This is a lesson learned. We have an installation in the Sendai area. We will try to get DC units there.”
ViaSat CEO Mark Dankberg said that with a number of major natural disasters occurring in recent years, deploying satellite services quickly could make a huge difference. “My sense is that the [U.S. Federal Communications Commission] is trying to take a more proactive approach. As opposed to an ad-hoc response, they are trying to do a better job of being prepared. First responders are starting to use smartphones to be able to access applications. The FCC is looking for a more organized response. They are looking to get enough bandwidth in the future to do something more. They are looking to come up with the ground technology and service plans, which is a public-interest approach to requisition bandwidth.”
Hughes Network Systems Executive Vice President and General Manager of North America Paul Gaske argued that satellite-based emergency response services have performed above expectations in the past. “We have seen a number of these events in the last 10 years. [We get asked] how many terminals can you send? Can you send some technicians? I am not sure we have seen terminals come back, but certainly, you can see that satellite systems make a huge difference. Haiti was the same. Satellite brings tremendous relief. The newest satellites maybe fixed, but even in a fixed world, you can make adaptations in terms of coding and footprint.”
While all of the speakers were quick to reach a consensus that satellite’s coverage and maneuverability provided vital assets to emergency communications infrastructure, O3b CEO Steve Collar said there is much room for improvement. “This sort of disaster that is going on in Japan gives the satellite industry to shine, but this is something above that,” he said. “We have implicitly a mobile system. Our satellites are not fixed. Within seconds of a disaster happening, we could steer a beam over that area. The moment communications are restored, they are overloaded. By having that ability to instantly respond, I think we would be able to add real value in this kind of situation.”