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Asia taps 4G LTE, meshing tech for disaster alerts

Disaster communication systems in the region increasingly leverage 4G LTE network and wider spectrum for better coverage and interoperability.
Written by Ellyne Phneah, Contributor

To create timely, proactive and uninterrupted disaster alert systems in Asia, governments and operators are using 4G LTE networks, and meshing technology.

Today's network and communication systems have evolved to include 4G LTE networks which offer faster speeds and greater coverage over more areas, Christopher Rezentes, manager of Verizon enterprise solutions, observed. These systems hence became more proactive in informing those in affected or potentially affected areas about the need for evacuations and to keep them updated on the status of a natural disaster, he noted.
Agreeing, another industry watcher, David Lum, Asia-Pacific director of regulatory, product and support operations at Motorola Solutions, noted within the public communication space, Asia was also witnessing a mobile penetration wave which has forced many carriers to look at LTE, while many governments are settling for LTE as the new mobile broadband standard, he explained.

Meshing technology has also been used by disaster systems in Asia, Rezentes noted. This involves creating additional paths to reroute traffic when multiple undersea cables break or networks are disrupted, he explained.

Robust network needed to withstand disasters
"This is important because submarine or terrestrial cables used by communications providers in the Asia-Pacific region can be easily damaged during major earthquakes and typhoons, and communications traffic can be impacted," he said.

For example, Lum pointed out when Hurricane Sandy hit the Eastern coast of the U.S., 25 percent of cellular service went down the storm area, Lum pointed out. Cellular networks or public communications networks are not built for mission-critical use and cannot meet the needs of public safety agencies and civilians, he remarked.

Rezentes added in a situation like a natural disaster, a significant spike of network traffic is usually expected as consumers and businesses often conduct more voice calls and text messages.

He noted the company's mesh network had been used during Asian natural disasters including Japan's 2011 earthquake and tsunami and Taiwan's 2009 Typhoon Morakot where subsequent earthquakes and mudslides which damaged many communication cables in the area.

Spectrum for public safety operations
Wireless communications for public safety applications are also increasing, typically carried over a Project 25 (P25) network or Terrestrial Trunked Radio (TETRA) network, Ajay Sunder, senior director of Asia's ICT Practice at Frost & Sullivan, noted.

Both P25 and TETRA have been adopted as standards in the Association of Public Safety Communications Officials (APCO) and the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) respectively, and are flexible and open architectures for interoperable communications.

These standards have also made inroads into the Asia-Pacific region, and have been well-embraced by many governments and industries to enhance safety, efficiency, productivity and life-saving response, Lum noted.

However, other than South Korea and Japan which are way ahead in terms of wireless broadband infrastructure, most Asian countries are still not ready when it comes to spectrum requirements as a spectrum of 800 MHz is usually needed, Sunder said.

The 800 MHz frequency is the public safety spectrum used in the U.S. and Europe, and matching that spectrum in Asia will help toward interoperability of communication devices.

Regulators in the region have more or less agreed on a band plan, ranging 698 MHz to 880 MHz, Lum noted.

Future systems to leverage mobile, personal safety devices
In the near future, public safety emergency communication response services will increasingly leverage mobile communications, and civilians will be able to receive text, images and videos submitted by the public, Lum remarked.

They will also be able to receive data from personal safety devices such as advanced automatic collision notification systems, medical alert systems and even environmental sensors, he added.

Countries such as Japan have started incorporating smartphones into their alert systems. In October, it started work on a new system to disseminate emergency information through mobile devices, cable TV and radio, to improve on its flawed, current J-Alert system and enable more citizens to receive updates in a timely manner.

Other Asian countries too, are leveraging mobile devices to disseminate emergency information. China had in September, meteorological authorities signed agreements with local telcos to send early warnings of weather conditions through text messages. In August, Israel also commenced a week-long test of an alert system that sends a text message to mobile phones located in areas likely to bit hit by missile strikes.

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