Earthquake on Oct 26, 2015 may not be as deadly as the Oct 08, 2005 tremors, in almost the same region which left nearly 80,000 dead. Telecommunication for disaster management, in the area which hosts the three highest mountain ranges in the world; Hindukush, Karakorum and Himalaya, was one of the biggest challenge. Aftershocks, landslides, avalanches, scattered population, freezing temperatures, and lack of contact with rest of the world were critical factors for delays in disaster management.
Facebooks safety alert for the people in the region served as primary source of updates for people concerned about safety of their loved ones in the area. However, these updates relied on cellular network coverage in the region. These kinds of updates can be shared instantly, in case of any natural/political disaster in the world in future, through last mile internet services by upcoming LEO satellites constellations networks.
The areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan affected by recent earthquake are mostly served by satellite communication in the form of GSM backhaul over VSAT. Affected areas experienced partial network outages and access was limited for troubleshooting the issues due to landslides, bridge/road damage. Relief teams reached these isolated populations and they also relied on MSS like Thuraya and ad-hoc satellite communication networks with the help of flyaway antennas to remain in contact, until the networks were restored. Other important factors for network outages were; electric power outages and difficulty of supplying fuel for generators in the region, and cost for the logistic of ad-hoc networks and high call charges of MSS.
Despite the environmental concerns and interference issues I support deployment of recently announced LEO constellations as they will be providing last mile solutions directly to the end users. Services provided by these constellations will play vital role in disaster management as they will not require any infrastructure installation for access points and hence lower requirement of electric power. However, the picture will be much clearer when OneWeb, SpaceX and Samsung release information for user terminals of their respective satellite networks.
Technically speaking current VSAT networks are providing Abis (BTS ßà BSC) and Ater (BSC ßà BSC/MSC) interface connectivity for GSM networks and AP ßà Core connectivity for broadband internet services in the region. C-Band is the preferred radio spectrum with 3.0m and 3.7m VSAT antennas for satellite communication due to heavy snowfall and extreme weather conditions in the region. C-Band might lose preference after the spectrum sharing decision to be taken in the upcoming WRC15. Upcoming LEO networks on the other hand are capable of providing air/Um interface connectivity direct to the user for both cellular and broadband communication. This possibility will make relief operations more precise, efficient and cost-effective for any kind of natural disaster, anywhere on the globe in the future.
MSS; Mobile Satellite Services
LEO; Lower Earth Orbit
BTS; Base Transceiver Station
BSC; Base Station Controller
MSC; Mobile Switching Center
AP; Access Point
WRC; World Radio communication Conference
P.S. I was a university student during the 2005 earthquake and worked as a volunteer in relief operations in mountainous terrain. After my graduation in 2007 I started working for the biggest VSAT service provider in Pakistan & Afghanistan. I worked in 24/7 network operations and looked after network of multiple GSM operators in the areas affected by recent disaster.
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