Even with good cell service, emergency crews might need satellite
- By William Jackson
- May 14, 2012
The Paulding County, Ga., fire department gets a good multimegabit
Internet connection for its mobile command center by bonding three
cellular channels from Sprint and Verizon, adequate for supporting up to
five laptops when the bus is rolled out in an emergency.
Most of the neighboring counties in Northwest Georgia use satellite
communications as the primary service for mobile centers, said Paulding
Fire Department Maj. Kevin New.
“Satellite is very costly,” New said. “This is a much more economical
alternative to that. We’ve been very lucky with cell telephone
Paulding is in the Atlanta Metro area, where cell coverage is good,
and is south of mountains that extend into Alabama so that signals are
not broken up by terrain. But in an emergency, just when the command
vehicle’s communications are most needed, cellular service is most
likely to be unavailable.
The county is considering the use of satellite service as a backup to its cellular links.
Emergency response agencies often rely on satellite communications
such as Inmarsat’s Broadband Global Area Network service, which can
support IP traffic on shared channels up to 500 kilobits/sec. Voice
codecs use about 4 kilobits/sec., so there is plenty of room left for
data, even if it isn’t as fast as the 3 to 4 megabits/sec. that can be
achieved by bonding three cellular links.
New services coming online in the next several years are expected to support up to 50 megabits/sec. through a small terminal.
Although Paulding County sees the need for a backup alternative to
cellular, that might take a while under tight budgets. In the meantime,
cellular carriers have made good efforts to keep service up during
emergencies when infrastructure is damaged or increased volume threatens
to swamp capacity, New said.
Sprint and Verizon are quick to respond with Cells on Wheels, or
COWs, mobile cells that can be set up to provide coverage quickly in a
stricken area. “They’re Johnny on the spot” in an emergency, New said.
William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.