The Role of VSAT in Supporting NGOs during Disasters in Africa (Part 2): Zambia and Cape Verde

This is the second article of the two-part series “The Role of VSAT in Supporting NGOs during Disasters in Africa”. The first article focused on telemedicine projects in Mozambique and Uganda. This article will look at the role of VSAT during disasters in two more African countries: Zambia and Cape Verde.

Emergency telecommunications play a critical role in the immediate aftermath of disasters by ensuring the timely flow of vital information that is much needed by government agencies and other humanitarian actors involved in rescue operations and providing medical assistance to the injured. The impact of disasters is even worse for those living in remote and isolated areas with no access to basic information and communication facilities that are essential in providing the alerts so vital to saving lives.

The best emergency solution to utilize during emergencies is VSAT technology. VSAT is not affected by natural calamities like earthquakes, floods, and storms as much as terrestrial networks. This is why VSAT technology directly supports many NGOs and military operations, allowing them to cope with contingencies. Because of this, the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) considers emergency telecommunications such as VSAT to be a core element of its projects that integrate telecommunications/information and communication technologies in disaster prediction, detection and alerting.

Emergency VSAT Solutions – Saving Lives During Disasters

1) Flood in Zambia 2008

The main emergencies that occur in Zambia are very much water-related and are predictable. Every year, there are floods along the river areas, primarily the Zambezi belt. When floods occur, people are often displaced. In 2008/2009 floods, over 4,000 people were displaced along the Zambezi belt. The 2008/9 rain season peaked in January 2009 with all parts of Zambia receiving normal to above normal rainfall The heavy precipitation in the country, coupled with similar rainfall in neighboring Angola, caused flooding along the Zambezi and Kwando Rivers, which displaced over 102,000 households, damaged growing and matured crops, and caused significant threats of waterborne diseases.  The five affected provinces were the Western, North-Western, Eastern Luapula and parts of the Northern Provinces. The government undertook rapid assessments in the affected districts, detailing the immediate need of food aid, shelter, clean and safe water, and rehabilitation of infrastructure.

The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) provided VSAT satellite terminals to Zambia to assist officials in their relief efforts after severe floods affected 19 districts across the country. The floods destroyed roads and terrestrial communication links, hampering the coordination and delivery of assistance. This deployment of emergency VSAT solutions proved critical for the government and allowed humanitarian aid agencies to conduct rescue operations, medical assistance, and recovery. The VSAT mobile terminals deployed by the ITU were easily transported by road and air to the affected regions, and the VSAT terminals facilitated the coordination of relief operations by both government and humanitarian agencies to aid the victims.

2) Volcano Eruption in Cape Verde

The eruption of the Pico de Fogo volcano began on the 23rd of November, 2014 and continued until the 8th of February, 2015. By the end of the eruption, the lava had covered an era of approximately 520 hectares with an average 8-meter height lava wall. The 88 days of intense and effusive eruption culminated in the total destruction of all houses and community infrastructures of the localities of Portela and Bangaeira – Chã das Caldeiras, forcing the evacuation and displacement of 994 people. As of the 8th of December, 2014, lava had destroyed 90 buildings, including the national park headquarters, wine production facilities, a primary school and a hotel, as well as more than 429 hectares of land, resulting in great material and economic loss and leaving many without a source of income.

The International Telecommunications Union (ITU)  deployed VSAT communication equipment following the eruption of the Fogo Volcano on the 24th of November 2014, which affected most of the population of Fogo Island. The VSAT equipment was used for coordination and relief activities on the ground. The ITU deployed Iridium satellite VSAT communication terminals to support the preparedness and rescue activities.

Vizocom has an NGO Support Program, where Vizocom will provide fast and reliable communication services with exceptionally low prices to support NGOs and their causes.

The Role of VSAT in Supporting NGOs during Disasters in Africa (Part 1): Mozambique and Uganda

Natural disasters such as floods, fires, and storms affect thousands of people in Africa. From the destruction of buildings to the spread of disease, natural disasters can devastate entire countries overnight and seriously disrupt the community with massive human, material, economic and environmental losses. To prevent these losses during disasters, emergency communication systems are critical in terms of safety, and ensuring the continuous operation and rapid recovery of emergency communication systems is more important than ever.

The best emergency solution to utilize in these situations is VSAT technology. VSAT solutions act as very dependable backbones for communications during and after calamities. The inherent nature of VSAT communications via satellite and its connectivity advantages makes VSAT the ideal means of communication during emergencies.

During disasters, the first action should be to connect the affected site to multiple other sites, and this can be done quickly using VSAT. The other important tool for communication is the satellite phone , which does not rely on ground infrastructure for connectivity. Below are examples of how VSAT solutions have directly supported the NGO’s relief operations during disasters.

Emergency VSAT Solutions – Saving Lives during Disasters

1. Cyclone in Mozambique in 2008

The tropical cyclone Jokwe hit northern and central Mozambique on the 9th of March, 2008. The Category 4 cyclone had winds of up to 170 Km per hour and brought torrential rains, prompting the government to declare a Red Alert, which is the highest level issued for natural disasters. The red alert was issued for the Provinces of Nampula, Zambézia and Sofala, as well as the coastal areas of the Districts of Maganja da Costa, Pebane, Moma, Angoche, Mogovolas, Mogincual, Mossuril, and Nacala. A lesser Yellow Alert was issued in the central provinces, specifically in the districts of Inhassunge, Chinde, Marromeu, Chiringoma and Dondo. According to the Government National Institute for Disaster Management (INGC),tropical cyclone Jokwe killed 7 people, damaged around 30,000 houses, 200 schoolrooms, and dozens of health clinics, prisons and other public buildings. An estimated 41,000 hectares of maize were destroyed.

 

The Emergency Telecommunication Cluster (ETC), with support from Telecom sans Frontieres, installed VSAT equipment and provided support to INGC and the humanitarian community in each of the emergency operation centers in Caia, Mutarara, and Mopeia. Data connectivity was provided in Caia through an ETC VSAT station; in Mutarara, through the World Vision VSAT station; and in Mopeia, using UNICEF‘s BGAN portable satellite terminal. The emergency VSAT systems in place helped the NGOs conduct rapid emergency procedures. Telecom sans Frontieres also installed a BGAN and proxy-server in Caia to decrease the usage load on the VSAT at the CENOE office. Lacking outside contributions, the Emergency Telecommunication Cluster used advanced funds from UNICEF and WFP.

2. Flood in Uganda

Unusually heavy rainfall from July to November of 2007 led to flooding and water-logging across a number of districts in eastern and northern Uganda, particularly in the Districts of Soroti, Amuria, Katakwi, Bukedea, Kumi, Lira and Sironko. This gave rise to a major humanitarian response across all sectors. An estimated 20,000 households were severely affected and 58,000 people were displaced. With about 80 percent of crops destroyed by floods, food insecurity was imminent. The flooding disrupted delivery of social and economic services like education, health, trade and agriculture – which resulted in increased risk of communicable diseases especially as the floodwater receded. Malaria and diarrheal disease incidences greatly increased by over 30%. Several districts were ravaged by torrential rains and flash floods that swept through the country, destroying road and communication links, and submerging crops, which compelled the Government to declare a state of emergency.

The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) deployed 25 VSAT terminals to help restore vital communication links in the aftermath of severe floods that affected the eastern and northern regions of Uganda. With the restoration of the communication links, designated government officials and other humanitarian agencies were able to coordinate relief operations efficiently. The ITU provided bothThuraya hand-held satellite phones and Inmarsat Global Area Network (GAN)terminals. The Thuraya satellite phones used both satellite and GSM networks to accurately locate the GPS coordinates for the aid relief and rescue. The Inmarsat GAN terminals were mainly used for voice communications and high-speed data.

This article will be continued in the second part of this series titled: The Role of VSAT in Supporting NGOs during Disasters in Africa (Part 2): Zambia and Cape Verde.

Vizocom has an NGO Support Program, where Vizocom will provide fast and reliable communication services with exceptionally low prices to support NGOs and their causes.

5G – When Can You Really Expect to See Next-Gen Mobile Technology?

These days there are lots of talks about “5G”, the new Fifth Generation of mobile connectivity technology. Many of major operators such as Samsung, AT&T, Verizon, Nokia, and Huawei are working full force to make 5G happen in a tight competition.

But what exactly is 5G and when will it be in use?

What is 5G?

Until now, the only issue that can be confidently said about 5G is that obviously it is the fifth generation of mobile network technology, and it promises 4 major improvements:

1) Much Higher Speed

5G promises to provide speeds as high as 10Gbps (in theory) and as high as 100Mbps in congested networks which is multiple times higher than the current 4G platform.

2) Lower Latency

While 4G has a latency of about 30-50ms, the latency of 5G is expected to be in the range of 1ms or less.

3) Number of Connections

While 4G networks can provide up to thousands of connections, a 5G network is expected to increase that to millions of connections per square kilometer. This is especially important with regards to the expected explosive growth of IoT devices to about 20 billion devices by 2020.

4) Lower power consumption

5G is expected to consume less battery power than 4G.

Apart from the above assumptions, the actual technical details of 5G is not yet defined, and there is a fierce competition to finalize the standard, which is expected no sooner than 2018.

When will 5G become available?

The current estimates are talking about 2020 as the year when we can start using 5G. There are talks about providing limited 5G services as early as 2018 to cover the Winter Olympics in South Korea.

However, when considering all the remaining challenges that need to be resolved before 5G actually replaces the 4G infrastructure, it seems we still are a few more years away from having a widely-spread 5G network.

Some of these challenges are:

1) Defining the final standard

2) Providing the required backbone infrastructure that can handle the very high speeds that is required

3) Embedding the required hardware in all mobile cells and other mobile devices.

Conclusion

5G network is inevitable – for sure it is the required communication infrastructure for the 3rd decade of the 21st century to complement other emerging technologies such as , Artificial Intelligence (AI), and live video communications. However it seems we would need to wait for 5 more years to see a wide coverage of 5G for our daily use.

What is WiMAX and How Does it Differ from WiFi?

When speaking about wireless networks, you might have heard the term WiMAX increasingly used as a technology that will replace WiFi. If you are curious on what the differences between these two are, then this article is meant to exactly answer your questions.

WiMAX stands for “Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access” and is a standard-based technology for providing a wireless alternative to cable and DSL connections.

This however is also one of the usages of WiFi. Although WiFi wireless devices are mainly used for short-range wireless connection of end user devices such as laptops, tablets and smartphones, they are also used for site-to-site interconnections.

Before I explain the core difference of the two, let’s first take a look at the table below which gives some of the basic differences between the two wireless standards:

Specifications WiMAX WiFi
IEEE Standard 802.16x 802.11x
Versions of standard 802.16a, 802.16d and 802.16e 802.11b, 802.11g, 802.11n
Official Release 1997 2004
Frequency bands supported 2.5,3.5 and 5.8GHz supported 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz supported
Data rate 30-40Mbps, but lately updated to 1Gbps 54Mbps, but lately up to 1.2Gbps
Channel Bandwidth Flexible (1.25 to 20 MHz) 10 or 20 or 40 MHz
Normal Ranges 30+ Km 100m for end-user devices (up to 5Km for outdoor point to point connections)

What is the main technical benefit of WiMAX?

WiMAX is not a replacement technology to WiFi – instead, while WiFi is the de-facto global standard for wireless interconnection of end-user devices, WiMAX has addressed a specific technical deficiency of WiFi for interconnection of multiple sites.

The main drawback of WiFi technology for a point-to-multipoint connection is that it is a connectionless type of protocol named CSMA/CA (Carrier sense multiple access with collision avoidance). Without going into deep technical details, this means that as in WiFi networks all the devices of the network share the same frequency channel, to prevent collision in data transmissions, each device “listens” to make sure no other device is transmitting and then it transmits its data. I.e. there is no centralized management in the network. While this makes the network setup very simple and straightforward (which is a benefit for end-user devices), it creates major problems in larger networks especially when the distances are increased.

scheduling algorithm. Unlike a WiFi network, in WiMAX you should define and setup each subscriber station (SS) on the base station including specifying what bandwidth each SS should be given. By doing this, the base station knows the exact number of subscriber stations and allocates a time slot (access slot) to each. This protocol synchronizes the transmission of data between all the stations on the network and totally eliminates the collision issues of a WiFi network. This enables efficient and reliable connection of as many as 80 subscribers on a WiMAX network with guaranteed QoS (Quality of Service), while on an outdoor WiFi network, adding more than 10 CPEs would cause great deficiency with unpredictable quality of service.

To give an example, WiFi is like a crossroad with no traffic light where cars need to check and make sure no-one else is crossing before moving on, while WiMAX is when you have a traffic police (the base station) giving turn to each car to pass.

Conclusion

While WiFi is and will be widely used for short-range wireless connection of end-user devices, WiMAX is the correct, efficient wireless solution for long-range connection of multiple sites such as providing internet connection to multiple homes or interconnection of multiple buildings in a large compound.

5 Key Factors in Designing a Wireless Network for your Business

Wireless networks have become an integral part of any business environment these days, especially due to the increased prominence of all kinds of wireless devices such as laptops, tablets, and smartphones. Wireless networks are now ubiquitous because they provide the expected convenience, portability, and flexibility demanded by any serious business today. Another reason you see such an increase in demand for setup of wireless networks in business environments is due to the fact that a wireless network is now much faster and more reliable than before.

In this article, I will try to briefly explain some key factors that any business person who wants to set up or request a wireless network should be familiar with. It greatly helps to professionally communicate with your team and the company you contract to setup your wireless network.

What do we mean by “Wireless”?

The term wireless is of course a very broad and general term and can be applied to any device or technology that works without wires! Wireless communications include GSM, WIMAX, satellite, radio, microwave, Bluetooth, and many other means of communications.

However when we are talking about wireless network for computers, we are loosely using the term to refer to “WiFi” or the IEEE 802.11 standard. This is the common wireless (WiFi) connection you have on your laptops, tablets, and smartphones.

5 Key factors of a Wireless Network

Below are 5 key factors you would need to ensure about in any wireless network that is setup you’re your business:

1) Indoor / Outdoor Access Points

Regardless of the brand, the wireless access points are divided to indoor and outdoor devices. Indoor access points are not weatherproof but cost less and are installed on wall or ceiling of offices.

Outdoor access points on the other hand are designed to withstand outdoor climates and are usually used to cover the outside premises of your office or compound.

There are however cases where outdoor access points are used to provide coverage for indoor use – this is when you have disbursed, separate prefab caravans or trailers or tents (like oil rigs or man camps) where providing coverage for inside these rooms more efficient by utilizing outdoor access points.

2)  Number of Access Points
Determining the correct number of required access points and their proper positioning to provide proper coverage is probably the most critical step that determines the success of a wireless network.

There are many factors for determining the required number of access points, but the two main ones are:

a. You need to make sure you have all locations within the range of the wireless access point.

b. You need to make sure you have enough access points in crowded areas (one per every 20-30 users).

3) Access Point Bandwidth/Speed

The speed and bandwidth offered by wireless access points is increasing year by year at an incredible speed. While the speed of access points was in range of 11 to a maximum of 54Mbps back in 2000’s (IEEE 802.11 a/b/g standards), now thanks to the advent of many new technologies such as MIMO, the common standard is IEEE 802.11ac which provides speeds as high as 780Mbps. New standards are expected as early as 2017 to support speeds up to 100Gbps! If you are planning to setup your wireless network this year, you should go for the 802.11ac standard or newer.

4) Access Point Frequency Spectrum/Band

Older access points tended to support 2.4GHz band. The new 802.11ac standard also supports 5GHz band, enabling higher bandwidth and speed.

5) WLAN Controller

While for a very small office a standalone access point might be sufficient, in larger premises where you have to setup multiple access points, a WLAN controller would become quite critical.

The WLAN controller enables management of multiple access points, not only simplifying the management of all the access points from a single control point, but also to enable the seamless roaming of wireless devices on the move. Some manufacturers now provide software services as an alternative to hardware WLAN controllers which would provide a very attractive and cost effective alternative for SMBs.

Who can design and implement a successful wireless network?

Whether you want to test the wireless knowledge of your in-house team or the capabilities of a potential contractor, the above information will give an idea of some of the key concepts any wireless implementer should be well aware of.

The successful design of a wireless network is much more than that of course. Unless if you simply need 1-2 access points to provide coverage for a small office, make sure for larger networks you do get a professional to do it for you.