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Using Satellite Communications for Disaster Recovery, Part 1

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  1. Satellite Technology: Overview in 200 Words or Fewer
  2. Is Satellite Right for All Applications?
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In an era of mega-disasters such as Hurricane Katrina and the Christmas 2004 tsunami, satellite communications might some day be your organization's only connection to a twenty-first century communications infrastructure. Learn what you need to know (and what others have discovered) about this versatile lifeline in this informative series by Leo Wrobel.
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I recently finished a terrific science fiction series, titled Weapons of Choice, by an author named John Birmingham. The story begins in the year 2021, with a U.S.-led aircraft carrier task force in the Pacific that is instantly transported in its entirety to June 1942 through a botched scientific experiment. The technological, political, and social chaos that ensues in the book is riveting, but you will have to buy the book and read all about that yourself.

One thing struck me in the beginning of the book immediately following the "transition" to 1942. It was astounding to see how dependent the twenty-first century people (military and otherwise) had become on satellite communications. Everything the "uptimers" did as far as voice communications, broadband, video links, email, weather forecasting, reconnaissance, global positioning, and a host of other applications suddenly turned into a blue screen with "NO SIGNAL." The world of instantaneous communications to which they had long since become accustomed and the secure feeling of being constantly bathed in wireless broadband on demand was suddenly gone; possibly for many years. Indeed a good portion of this book is devoted to how the uptimers coped with the loss of everything from GPS-guided weapons and smart bombs to no longer having 600 channels of bad TV to watch. The time travelers did, however, get some "21C" telecommunications online quickly by implementing one of their own Disaster Recovery solutions—one that came along with them to 1942. The solution was to bounce radio signals off the troposphere. Through a relay arrangement from Hawaii to an aircraft carrier, then from the carrier to an AWACS plane, then from the AWACS plane to a stealth cruiser, they were able to communicate from Hawaii to the USA (see Figure 1).

Figure 1

Figure 1 Relay system: Hawaii to San Francisco

They were even able to link up video conferences when all the relays lined up in the right spot. All the while, they lamented about what they would pay for "one lousy satellite" because none were in existence in 1942. Personally, I got a big kick out of this part of the book because Tropospheric Scatter, or "Tropo," is what we used 30 years ago, when I was in the military, for "long haul" links before satellites became popular. Astoundingly, this technology is still in use in today’s military—as a backup for satellites. It was just funny to see them in this book and in that particular context.

There is nothing like viewing a particular technology from a perspective 70 or 80 years in the past to have an appreciation for what we have today and how easily we take such things for granted. That school of thought plays directly into disaster recovery. When today’s companies lose critical communications links, they feel as lost as the hapless twenty-first century uptimers, ripped from their secure world of instant communications and tossed into oblivion.

Therefore, today’s companies and organizations must realize that when terrestrial communications is damaged due to a disaster, satellites provide a critical lifeline. Moreover, for getting communications to remote areas far from traditional landline communications, satellites may be the only link available to an "uptime" twenty-first century communications infrastructure.

Satellite Technology: Overview in 200 Words or Fewer

Satellite communications have taken leaps and bounds over the last few years. Satellite is essentially microwave radio aimed upward—it uses essentially the same frequencies as microwave radio. The technology has gone from elaborate teleports and 16-foot dishes in years past to pizza pan dishes that fit on the side of a building. In fact, in the case of Global Position Systems and freight tracking technologies, the units literally fit in your hand.

Notwithstanding timing delays (it takes a fraction of a second for the signal to go from the earth, 22,300 miles to a geosynchronous satellite, and the same distance back), satellite is a clean, reliable, and cost-effective disaster recovery solution. Even so, it is interesting to note (as in the twenty-first century military in my Weapons of Choice example above) that some corporate enterprise networks are virtually 100% satellite already. Network television is a prime example. It is therefore probably prudent in these cases to explore another technology for backup. Network television providers do the opposite of what your organization probably does. Your organization may back up terrestrial landlines with satellite. TV providers who already use satellite may back up the satellite with fiber and landlines. Granted, it is probably not practical for your company to license and install a Tropo system, but even so, there are ways to back up satellite with other technology.

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