Haiti: Satellites Up, Fiber Down

Posted by Sam Churchill on

Telecommunications in Haiti has been severely disrupted due to the 7.0 Earthquake on January 12, 2009. SES World Skies announced it was donating teleport access and capacity on five of its own satellites to aid relief efforts in Haiti from the catastrophic earthquake that struck the Port-au-Prince area on 12 January.

The operator said its AMC-1 (at 103 degrees West), AMC-6 (at 72 degrees West), AMC-21 (at 125 degrees West), NSS-7 (at 338 degrees East) and NSS-806 (at 319.5 degrees East) would provide domestic communication links as well as international connectivity.

Trilogy International Partners provides one-third of Haiti’s phone connections through its wireless subsidiary Voilà. With 500 employees, the company is one of the largest employers in Haiti and has operated there for a decade.

Seattle Times writer Sharon Pian Chan has a profile on Trilogy CEO John Stanton (right). The Bellevue native is one of the most prominent figures in the local business community and the global wireless arena.

Stanton worked for McCaw, filing the first government applications on behalf of Craig McCaw’s cellular-telephone venture. He closed the sale of Bellevue-based VoiceStream to T-Mobile. Most would call that $30 billion sale the deal of a lifetime.

A wireless-industry veteran, Stanton has worked all over the world and experienced the devastation of hurricanes and other crises at home and in developing countries. Nothing compares to Haiti, he said. The country already is overburdened with unreliable infrastructure, political instability, deforestation, poverty and homelessness.

Trilogy had a huge task trying to bring back its phone infrastructure and dealing with logistical difficulties, reports the Seattle Times. Within two hours of the quake, Trilogy chartered a plane from Miami, carrying 14 engineers, plus radios, batteries and water. They landed in Port-au-Prince early Wednesday with help from the U.S. State Department and Kenneth Merten, the U.S. ambassador to Haiti.

Although the wireless service was down for much of Wednesday, local staff and the engineers from Florida worked feverishly to get it restored by midnight.

People who are trapped under debris have called out for help from their cellphones.

Digicel Group and Telecoms Sans Frontieres(Telecommunications Without Borders) are endeavoring to set up a site in Port-au-Prince where people can make free, two-minute international or domestic phone calls via satellite.

Telecoms Sans Frontieres, a French-based international relief organization, was among the first on the scene with BGAN terminals. NetHope is putting together a novel combination of VSAT dishes and WiMax wireless networks to cover Port-au-Prince with a net of connectivity.

Inmarsat’s BGAN (Broadband Global Area Network) service, is an L-band (1.6GHz) service. It’s like an internet cafe in a box, providing 400Kbps satellite connections and build-in WiFi in a unit about the size of a laptop.

Inmarsat’s chairman and chief executive officer, explained to BBC News how spot beams from the Inmarsat I-4 satellites are reallocated to meet high demand from aid agencies and the military.

Portable VSATs Do WiMAX. Sat Magazine has a good review of VSat systems worldwide and covers Satellites and WiMAX.

Skycasters offer two completely self-contained turn-key mobile satellite Internet solutions: the Skycasters utility trailer and the SkyPortable flyaway system.

Satellite news gathering trucks have become smaller and operable by a single person. Atlanta-based Crawford Communications provides HDTV and Internet capability. Ground Control and MotoSat (below), provide mobile internet access.

AT&T is donating $50,000 to Télécoms Sans Frontières. Currently, its employees are struggling with road obstacles on the ground, but are carrying mobile and fixed telecommunications tools, according to the group’s website. Global Satellite USA delivered emergency satellite phones to Trilogy International, the cellular provider for Haiti.

Monster geosynchronous satellites like TerreStar-1 can link directly to TerreStar’s pocket satphone for voice and data anywhere in North America, although their data speeds are less than laptop-size Inmarsat terminals or larger V-sat hubs.

Digicel is one of the largest companies in Haiti having launched its mobile services in 2006 – and as the largest foreign direct investor in Haiti today, Digicel serves over two million customers in Haiti.

Paulo Chilosi, who runs the Haitian ISP Multilink, told US journalists on Thursday that the internet was the best channel for communication to and from Haiti in the wake of the earthquake, although the lack of electricity supply presented a major obstacle to getting online. Most ISPs in the country have remained operational, but two of the best known – Hainet and Access Haiti – were reported yesterday to be non-functional (although this was unconfirmed).

Two Low Earth Orbit systems (Iridium and Globalstar) and one GEO systems (Inmarsat), provide world-wide satphone service. Regional GEO-based systems include Thuraya (which covers the middle East), while North America is covered by TerreStar and ICO. Orbcomm does data, not voice.

HumaniNet says they have three Iridium satellite phones and one BGAN which can be loaned for teams deploying to Haiti. In the last five years, HumaniNet has assisted relief teams responding to the tsunami disaster in South Asia, the Darfur crisis, and Hurricane Katrina in the United States and helped NGO teams deployed to Indonesia, Pakistan, Iraq, Iran, and Afghanistan.

Gregg Swanson, director of Humaninet explains that humanitarian organizations are increasingly aware of the promise of geospatial information systems, and are utilizing tools like Google Earth.

Humaninet’s Maps 2.0 tool enables humanitarian organizations to post, access, share, modify, and use critical, geo-referenced information in emergency relief operations, post-emergency reconstruction, and continuing development projects.

Want to track every satellite in real time on Google Earth? Click here. NASA’s J-Track 3-D shows 900 satellites moving around the earth using Java animation.

Telegeograhy says the only international submarine cable system directly connecting to Haiti, was ‘disrupted’ as a result of the earthquake. Haiti Bahamas Telecommunications Company (BTC), the operator of the only international submarine cable system directly connecting to Haiti, told TeleGeography Thursday that the Bahamas Domestic Submarine Network (BDSNi) was damaged and the company is currently remotely assessing the extent of the damage.

Haitian fixed line operator Teleco jointly controls the undersea fibre-optic link connecting Port-au-Prince to the Bahamas, and from there to the US, in partnership with BTC. The BDSNi cable is designed with a maximum 1.92Tbps transmission capacity, is utilised by Teleco alongside INTELSAT satellite infrastructure, and it is not known how much of Haiti’s traffic is currently routed via this cable.

However, much of Haiti’s international communications remains largely reliant on satellites.The voice networks of Digicel Haiti, Comcel (Voila), Teleco and Haitel are operational but suffering severe problems with congestion, interconnection and coverage. The largest mobile network, Digicel, says its engineers are trying to add capacity to the network to address traffic congestion.

Mobile Emergency Response Operations Centers put disaster response on wheels. They typically provide:

  • 200KW Generator, with a 6000 gallon fuel tank, capable of operating for 14 days.
  • 100 telephone lines, with an additional 100 in place should they be needed.
  • State, County, and City of Mobile 800MHZ Radio system.
  • Emergency Alerting System (EAS).
  • Amateur radio communications.
  • Local and national television monitoring, plus 3 satellite monitoring systems.
  • Internet and Local Area Networking capability.
  • Computer modeling programs for various natural and technological disasters.
  • Specialized Emergency Management computer software for maintaining, analyzing, and reporting emergency situations.
  • Web EOC
  • Interoperability Communications Capability

Under the National Response Framework, the Army Corps of Engineers supports the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in disasters or emergencies by providing public works and engineering services like infrastructure assessment, debris clearance, emergency power, temporary roofing for houses, and the establishment of temporary housing or critical public facilities.

TerreStar’s satphone service is now operational. It features dual-band operation, working with AT&T’s cellular network for ubiquitous service throughout North America.

SkyTerra’s dualband satphones, by contrast, will combine both terrestrial 700 MHz Public Safety networks and satellites. It may be available later this year, after their satellite launches.

You’d think that states like California, Oregon and Washington would buy many hundreds of $800 satphones and many dozens of Inmarsat BGAN terminals.

A Big One is due. U.S. coastal areas will likely be cut off, due to the earthquake and then the tsunami, some 15 minutes later. Terrestrial networks — including police/fire and commercial cellular networks — all need power. Their networks will go down.

Temporary fixes may be available in a few days, but one might question if terrestrial first responder networks are more about agency turfwars than public service.

Oregon plans to spend hundreds of millions on a state-wide terrestrial 700 MHz network, but it may provide “iffy” service with little or no data connectivity.

There’s an app for that. The 700 MHz “D” block was expected to provide nation-wide connectivity using a unique public/private joint partnership. Instead of using Project 25 police radios (right), smartphones would provide push-to-talk voice groups and high-speed data on the 700 MHz band.

The “D Block” pairs 10 megahertz of (unbid) commercial 700 MHz spectrum with 12 megahertz of public-safety spectrum to create a 22 MHz block that will be shared by both the private sector and first responders. In a disaster, public service users get priority. The idea is that commercial providers would provide the funding for a terrestrial 700 MHz network — not taxpayers.

Perhaps the Haitian disaster will spur the FCC and Congress to make it happen.

First responders may find their police radios, without direct internet access, are increasingly irrelevant. Free Google tools for nonprofits (PowerPoint) are available to everyone. End users can develop solutions that really help — and they will.

About 3 percent of every donation made to Mercy Corps via credit card goes to pay swipe fees to payment networks and banks. So it came as a relief to the Portland-based relief organization that, perhaps thanks to pressure from the Huffington Post,  major credit card companies will waive transaction fees for donations to Haiti.

Protopage is a free AJAX start page. You can dynamically add RSS news feeds, sticky notes and bookmarks and social media. It’s a great prototyping tool that can be used by anyone – without any programming skills – to design a dynamic page. It can also be used with mobile devices.

A situation room could be constructed anywhere, perhaps in hackerspaces around the world.

They provide live monitoring and would be open to the public. The situation room would be a natural gathering spot for local developers, aid workers and anyone with an interest in the current situation in Haiti. It would utilize 3-4 donated video projectors and maintain a live Skype video connection with people in Haiti.

I envision an AJAX-heavy website with a strong social component, driven by real-time RSS feeds on food, clothing and shelter, along with a people finder, jobs, and streaming audio and video. Twitter clients like TweetDeck can monitor dozens of topics while TwitPic might update photos. The content is then aggregated into a daily stream posted on YouTube and Flickr. TWIT Live is a good model. A news hub moderated by real people.

At WiFi hotspots, the real-time content aggregator is the splash page. PubSubHubbub is an open, server-to-server web-hook-based pubsub (publish/subscribe) protocol as an extension to Atom, designed to speed up RSS and improve its competitive edge.

Dailywireless has more information on the Haiti disaster at Mapping the Haitian Disaster, Haiti Communications, and my PdxHaiti, a Ning social web site.

All ideas are welcome!

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Posted by Sam Churchill on Friday, January 15th, 2010 at 9:44 am .

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