By Todd R. Weiss
MAY 01, 2006
Just a month before the official U.S. hurricane season begins on June
1, Iridium Satellite LLC today unveiled satellite telephone
communications equipment that will interoperate with existing UHF and
VHF radio systems already used by police, rescue agencies,
firefighters and other first responders.
In an announcement today, the Bethesda, Md.-based vendor said the
equipment can prevent much of the widespread communications troubles
that plagued the Southeast U.S. after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita
pummeled the area last year. In the wake of the storms, land-line and
cellular telephone systems were largely devastated in Louisiana,
Mississippi and parts of other nearby states due to downed lines,
destroyed towers and other communications infrastructure failures.
Emergency workers had to use radios, satellite telephones and other
means to communicate until telephone service was restored.
The Iridium systems offer interoperable voice and data communications,
will work anywhere and are portable, according to the company. The
data services include integration of radio frequency identification
tags to help track vehicles, supplies and personnel wirelessly during
emergencies so that response efforts can be monitored, the company
Iridium services are already being used in some states, including
Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, South Carolina and
The Iridium systems can interoperate with other communications
systems, including VHF and UHF radios, making them flexible in times
of emergency, Greg Ewert, executive vice president for Iridium, said
in a statement. "Many states that could be affected by hurricanes this
season are still far from being prepared from a communications
perspective," he said.
The Iridium systems also offer quick setup and do not use a land-based
infrastructure that can be damaged in a disaster, according to the
"Iridium may typically be thought of as a satellite phone in the hands
of a first responder," Ewert said. "Increasingly, government customers
are seeking Iridium for tracking and redirecting of important assets
in an emergency, including critical supplies, vehicles and even
personnel. This is done through communications systems based on our
data-only transceiver. Many first responders [during Hurricanes
Katrina and Rita] were left vulnerable when it came to asset tracking.
Supplies sat by the side of the road because communications were
hampered with a lack of deployed mobile satellite services. They were
unable to redirect supplies as needed. With our solution, they can
stay in touch and stay in control."
Ted O'Brien, vice president of market development at Iridium, said
today that the systems can be expanded as needed. Satellite telephone
handsets are priced at about $1,500 each, while a fixed base station
that can be used in a rescue facility costs about $3,000, including an
external antenna. The interoperability system that allows satellite
telephone users to communicate with VHF and UHF radio users -- as well
as more than two-dozen other systems -- costs about $10,000. Small
mobile wireless modems that can be attached to vehicles and supply
containers for wireless tracking cost about $500 each if tracking
capabilities are to be deployed.
The equipment can be used with solar chargers so it can be recharged
when power is out, or vehicle battery charger adapters can be used.
"First responders using Iridium tell us time and again that we're
often the only line of communications they have, particularly during
and right after a disaster strikes," Ewert said in a statement. "When
communications infrastructure goes down, they need to get to the
disaster scene and connect back to headquarters to coordinate their
rescue and relief mission. ... It usually takes several days for first
responders to set up more permanent, fixed communications services in
a disaster scene. They use Iridium to keep in touch and to coordinate
their rescue mission as it unfolds."
Iridium provides global satellite voice and data communications using
66 cross-linked satellites, according to the company.
Since revamping its operations five years ago following the bankruptcy
of its predecessor (see "Iridium Refocuses on B2B" ), the new
Iridium Satellite LLC has positioned itself as a business and
government satellite communications provider for fail-safe
The original Iridium LLC was about to decommission its satellite
network in 2001 when it was purchased by a consortium of buyers for
$25 million. The satellite system cost $5 billion when it was built in
1998 by Schaumburg, Ill.-based Motorola Inc. and others.
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