As we have seen in the recent past, weather events, natural and man-made disasters, can all result in significant loss of revenue, loss in resources and create enormous expense up and down the supply chain. To minimize the effects, most organizations have developed comprehensive plans for conducting business under multiple scenarios where the infrastructure has been compromised and people have been displaced. These plans attempt to mitigate the effects the event may have on an operation, and can be very complex, but one element common to all plans is communications. This article is an attempt to share some ideas on how satellites may be incorporated into various aspects of your back up communication planning
Cell Phone Facts
Cell phones have become completely integrated into business and our lives. Beyond just calling; texting, social media, photos, and the internet have made these devices an essential tool in our lives. Cell phones are dependent upon terrestrial based infrastructure; towers, electricity, wirelines & cable so one would naturally assume that during a wide spread event such as a hurricane service would be compromised. However, recent history has taught us that the event doesn't have to be so wide spread. Even during a small or localized event cell phone service is disrupted because the system becomes overloaded by the sudden and prolonged spike in traffic. Adding to this problem for businesses is the fact that the emergency responders and government agencies can commandeer the service for emergency communication. One interesting aspect of this situation is, that due to the way text messages are handled and the low bandwidth required, frequently text messaging will still work even when calls won’t go through. This fact presents some interesting possibilities as you will see later.
Satellite Phone Service
Satellite phone service, regardless of what type of device is used, offers some common features that provide options when developing a business continuity plan. Because it does not rely on towers, cables or phone lines to work, satellite phone service can be used when other services have failed. Satellite phone service is not limited to making call just to other satellite phones; it can be used to call to and from land lines and cell phones as well. Most satellite phone services offer a voice mail and voice messaging feature, and most will allow you to send and receive text messages. Satellite phone service used with the proper equipment allows you to send and receive e-mails on a computer, tablet or smart phone. How you utilized these different features will depend on your unique requirements, but the following may offer some ideas.
The most common application we see companies employ is to put satellite phones in the hands of executives and key decision makers with the intent of keeping these people in touch via point to point phone calls. That capability can be expanded to have any number of satellite phones talking to each other simultaneously. By utilizing a dial in conferencing service it is possible to link any number of satellite phones as well as any other phone into a group call. Select a conferencing service that is hosted out of region to insure it will be available. The satellite phone can be utilized to set up the conference and to communicate to the team the time and call in details. The notification can be handled via a voice call or a text message.
Satellite Phone Basics:
Because a satellite phone requires the phone be able to “see” the satellite, this means that it must be outside unless an external antenna is used. During an emergency, being outside with the satellite phone may not be practical. The solution is to install a fixed indoor unit in the form of a satellite phone in a docking station or a dedicated satellite Comm Center. Doing so will require the installation of an antenna outside the building, generally on the roof, connected to the fixed indoor unit via special antenna cable. For a better understanding of what’s required for that installation click here.
A good practice is to establish predetermined check in times in which the phones will be turn on and connected to the network. The protocol may require the participant to check messages on the phone; call into the messaging service or prepare to receive a call. This practice will also maximise battery life by keeping the phone turned off when it is not needed. During emergencies, satellite phones can be recharged from a vehicle’s 12 volt charging system, portable charging bank, or small solar charging device.
Text Messaging Service:
Satellite text messaging services can be used to notify employees, vendors and others in and beyond an effected area. Within the affected areas individuals may very well receive a text message from a satellite phone on their cell phone even though a cell phone call won’t go through. Even if they don’t receive it the moment it is sent, it will be waiting for them as soon as cell phone service becomes available or they move to an area with service. This could be used to send out the company’s operational status, closure notifications, designate alternate locations or any number of other possibilities.
Satellite phones can be connected to computers and configured to send and receive e-mail. When the satellite phone is connected to a specialized WiFi device such as an Iridium Axcess Point, and properly configured, you can also utilize your Smart Phone, Tablet or computer to send and receive e-mail. Satellite phones offer a very narrow band data connection and therefore are not suitable for sending large e-mails or data files. Specialized e-mail service is required to control the size and flow of e-mail. Most of these specialized e-mail services are provided at very low cost or free. Iridium Axcess Point offers a free downloadable application that provides the mail service for sending and receiving mail, controls file sizes and it allows you to retrieve e-mail from your regular accounts. This makes it possible to continue to receive your regular e-mails as long as your e-mail server is housed or transferred outside of the affected area. If you need a true Broadband connection for large files or higher data rates, high speed satellite voice and data solutions are available.
Voice Mail/Voice Messaging:
If the organization is to remain operational in a compromised environment, satellite voice mail and voice messaging can provide a useful information channel. Employees and stakeholders can be provided a number to call that is tied to the satellite phone to get updated information. The message can be changed as the situation evolves and messages can be left on the satellite phone voice mail system by people calling in to provide their status updates These voice mail messages can be retrieve by anyone with the voice mail password. Conversely, if the organization has an offsite voice mail service, that service can be accessed from an affected area by the satellite phone to update and retrieve messages.
Establishing Connection Groups:
Most communication plans are developed around primary or key contacts and then secondary level contacts. These are often aligned by departments or operational groups. When using computers and Smart devices connected through satellite phones for e-mail or text messaging, it is important to develop and test call groups prior to an emergency. These call groups reside on the devices themselves and not on the satellite phone. Because these messages are channeled through the satellite system, special dialing strings or e-mail addresses will need to be entered into the computer or phones contact list, and then call group established using those lists. Likewise, important phone number and particularly the satellite phone numbers should be pre-loaded into the satellite phones. As part of the business continuity plan, communication protocol should be established for a number of different scenarios. Call groups and phone lists may be tailored to the different scenarios.
Simple Multi-phone Solutions:
Satellite phone service can be utilized to create a simple low cost multi-phone backup communication system. A single fixed installation system can easily be configured to connect into the company's PBX system to allow multiple extensions access to the satellite channel. This, of course, assumes that the PBX system and the facility have power. If that is not the case, then a standalone satellite system is needed. Satellite phone systems can be linked together to provide two, three or more lines in a roll over chain and, provide one phone number for your satellite system to access multiple satellite lines. Many systems allow you to connect standard telephones to them giving you multiple extensions on each satellite line. Again, the emphasis is on simple systems; simple to set up and simple to use.
Back Channel Communications:
Many organizations have sophisticated satellite communication services designed to provide high speed data and voice connectivity. These services are dedicated to mission critical communications and as such can become extremely busy during emergencies. The addition of a standalone satellite phone system can provide an inexpensive back channel to allow “off the network” communication to take place without impeding critical traffic. This can be a link for private or sensitive communications, or to allow personnel to make personal calls to stay in touch with family and friends. The system can also serve as a back up to the primary satellite system.
Portable High Speed Voice and Data:
Up to this point most of the information has been centered on satellite phone services running on a fairly narrow bandwidth. Excellent for voice, but by today’s standard very slow for data. However, portable BGAN (Broadband Global Area Network) terminal offer a cost effective option to have both voice and a broadband connection in one device. A small BGAN terminal is no larger than a hardback book and is battery powered, so it is highly portable. Simply connect a regular phone and a laptop to the terminal point it at the satellite, and you have a portable office, anywhere. The larger terminals (about the size of a laptop) offer data speeds up to 468 Kbps up and down. Connecting this device to a wireless router allow the device to be accessed by multiple computers or other devices. A BGAN terminal is a way to remotely log into the company server during an emergency.
Find Out More:
These are just some ideas of how you might include satellite phones, Comm Centers and Docking Stations into your disaster recovery and business continuity plan. G COMM specializes in satellite phone service and equipment. Call us and let us help you understand how satellite communications should be an essential part of your planning.