May 2011

Staying connected around the globe

IsatPhone Pro provides reliable link in the most remote regions

By Heather Ednie

The IsatPhone Pro provides remote professionals with reliable, high-quality voice connectivity in the most distant locations | Photo courtesy of Stratos

Unlike most professions, mining and mineral exploration business is often conducted in secluded locations, far from any established communications infrastructure. However, thanks to satellite technology, the world has moved closer as new technologies emerge. Launched in the second half of 2010, Inmarsat’s IsatPhone Pro has made staying in touch from distant locales easier, more efficient and affordable.

Supplying the most reliable satellite link

Formed in 1979 to meet the emergency communications needs of maritime fleets, today, Inmarsat has geostationary orbit satellites located 36,000 kilometres above the equator. Compared to low-earth orbit satellites, located 800 kilometres above earth, Inmarsat’s satellites ensure greater reliability without climatic interference.

The IsatPhone Pro utilizes the Inmarsat-4 satellites, winner of the 2010 Royal Academy of Engineering’s MacRobert Award for innovation. No other satellite phone on the market offers global coverage from geostationary satellites in L-band. “We have L-Band satellite frequency, given to us for our services for emergency communications for boats,” says Simon Curran, Inmarsat’s market development manager responsible for the mining sector. “It is not affected by the elements, so regardless of the climate, there is no interference.”

According to Curran, most satellite phone providers use low-earth orbit constellations or operate with geostationary satellites, but lack the global reach of Inmarsat. “As the satellites sit above the equator, the further towards the poles you go, the harder it is to achieve a look angle and thus be able to connect,” Curran explains. “We have tested the phone well into Alaska and it functioned fine.”

Crisis management

In less than a year on the market, the IsatPhone Pro has already been widely adopted for use in crisis zones worldwide. The emergency communications aid agency, Télécoms Sans Frontières, has used the IsatPhone Pro, deploying it over the past year in Haiti, Indonesia and Japan. Inmarsat is able to monitor usage and has noted traffic increased significantly over Japan following the triple disaster.

“The satellite forces down 193 beams, like a honeycomb,” Curran says. “We can monitor usage, and can transfer capacity from lower usage areas to hot-spot areas, either automatically or reactively.”

Once a mine is fully operational with infrastructure in place, the IsatPhone Pro can be used as an emergency reserve for the mine’s established communications infrastructure. Should bad weather knock out the mine’s communications system, the IsatPhone Pro will still work, because the L-band frequency will remain active. “It guarantees permanent communications capabilities, augmenting the safety of the operation,” Curran says. “As a backup solution, it can be a life saver.”

As well, Inmarsat has agreed to become the commercial operator of another L-band satellite, named Alphasat, which will provide supplemental L-band coverage across Europe, the Middle East and Africa. It is scheduled to be ready for 2012.

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