Operators See Need for Emergency Readiness Protocol

By | June 20, 2011 | Feature, Government, Telecom

[Satellite News 06-20-11] Issues regarding the readiness of governments and emergency services communications networks in the event of a disruption have received a new level of attention in the wake of recent natural disasters in Japan and Haiti, which in turn could also provide enormous prospects for global satellite broadband providers, according to satellite industry analysts.

   Furton Corp. Space & Telecommunications Division Director Jacob Gullish told Satellite News that there is a tremendous interest in enhancing public safety by using a variety of broadband applications. “The value is particularly high in rural areas, especially places where there is a lack of terrestrial wireless altogether. This is where satellites are invaluable in providing truly ubiquitous coverage over a given geography,” Gullish said. “The recent Japanese tsunami validated the benefit of specialized satellite applications. And of course there are several companies that have predicated their business plans on public safety such as LightSquared.”
   Inflation of investment in wireless broadband technologies is predicted to jump from $15.2 billion in 2009 to $22.3 billion by 2015, representing a 6.5 percent CAGR in a five-year period, according to recent studies. Furthermore, results indicate the public safety field is projected to have a total spending of $34.7 billion by the end of 2020; registering a CAGR of 9.3 percent from 2015 to 2020.           
   Gullish, however, added that the cautious investor should question some of the unpinning assumptions of this market, and that investors only need to look to existing operators to highlight the slow adoption rates and question future revenue from the public safety community given the tight federal, state and local budgets.
   Iridium Vice President and General Manager of the Americas Ted O’Brien said that, in many instances, Iridium finds itself the only communications infrastructure available after a disaster. 
“In these (emergency) circumstances, workers need to communicate with each other as well as report back to headquarters making reliable, global communications imperative under these circumstances,” O’Brien explained. “Organizations like the Red Cross, firemen, utility workers require critical reliable communications that will work wherever they are in the world, whenever they need it.”
   To cope with evolving protocols, O’Brien said that Iridium has modified its business practices to better ensure connectivity for responders in event of a disaster centering on rental programs, training, inventory and the development of handsets communication devices. “We ensure that we have a large inventory or phones available through our service providers for emergency relief workers,” O’Brien explained.
   Through preparatory events such as the Governor’s Hurricane Conference in concert with Iridium’s efforts to continue its technological improvements, O’Brien said that Iridium is cooperating with its partners to ensure that first responders and emergency personal are trained in instances when they might not have the time to read through equipment operation manuals.
“Additionally, some service providers, like GMPCS, have made rental programs available for those that, even if they have the money to purchase the phones may not have phones ready (charged, extra batteries). Our service providers can have phone and equipment at the ready,” said Gullish.
    While Iridium sees an important, continuous role for broadband access for emergency responders and the public safety community, Gullish said his company would question a business plan that relies too heavily on this segment to make-or-break an investment plan.  
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