Globalstar Europe Satellite Services and Manx Telecom, a mobile operator on the Isle of Man in the UK, are to offer the emergency services and other first responders a ubiquitous mobile communications network by combining the ability to roam across cellular networks and a mobile satellite network.
The two companies have formed an alliance to develop Extended Mobile Network (EMN), a new multiple technology communications system, which enables users to switch between multiple cellular networks and a DtU (Direct-to-User) mobile satellite network. Trials are due to start in Summer 2016.
Using Globalstar’s low-Earth orbit satellite constellation, EMN is intending to be a BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) solution that will enable users to communicate as normal with their existing devices, such as smartphones or tablets, but with ubiquitous nationwide coverage via satellite operations.
With EMN, which uses Manx Telecom’s Smart SIM technology, when a user’s signal level begins to weaken due to the limited reach of the carrier’s coverage or disappears due to a natural or man-made disaster, connectivity will be automatically handed over to another mobile network that is in range. If a terrestrial network is not available, network connectivity will be transferred onto Globalstar’s system.
One of the first services to be developed by the new alliance, and supported by specialist technical consultancy firm, Intelcomm, is the First Responder Auxiliary Network (FRAN). FRAN will enable all first responders, to continue making and receiving calls in the event that cellular networks become unavailable.
This will be especially vital in a fast developing emergency situation when users suddenly have their communication cut off due to network overload, pre-emption or land-based infrastructure damage.
The two companies point out that first responders need ‘truly ubiquitous and affordable mobile communications’. Previous attempts have included using satellites as ‘backhaul’ to deliver signals to terrestrial masts – something EE, the UK’s new 4G Emergency Services Network (ESN) main network provider, has said it is considering.
However, unlike EMN’s DtU approach which connects users directly via satellite, a backhaul solution is still dependent on the reach and integrity of terrestrial infrastructure – something that cannot be guaranteed, as became apparent during 2015 when severe weather in the UK damaged terrestrial infrastructure, impairing emergency services’ ability to operate.
Using the satellite network directly, the EMN solution does not require the backhaul solution. The satellites orbit at just 1,400 km above the Earth, providing much lower latency than other satellite networks in higher orbits. In addition, there is high reliability in that there are one or more satellites visible from any given point.
In the summer of 2016, Manx Telecom and Globalstar are targeting a trial service of FRAN involving parties from the emergency services community. “First responders face an ever growing array of operational challenges,” commented Jay Monroe, chairman & CEO of Globalstar. “The EMN solution, incorporating our reliable satellite network, will help ensure that first responders can continuously communicate and help them perform their significant roles more effectively.”
Gary Lamb, CEO of Manx Telecom, commented: “Together with our partners, we intend to show that satellite communications, combined with Manx Telecom’s flexible Strongest Signal SIM technology, can provide much-needed balance and backup to the emergency communications architecture and dramatically increase overall reliability. Our firm view is that FRAN can uniquely provide emergency services personnel with communications networks they can rely on, wherever they are, 24/7.”