Friday, January 22, 2010

Conundrum -- Satellite Communication Resiliency, Haiti, and the Last Mile

The issues of communications, and associated coordination, along with logistics and the bottlenecks, have permeated the post-earthquake humanitarian relief efforts in Haiti. Ironically, and, in a strange way, propitiously, it turns out that Haiti's Internet connectivity is robust precisely because its telecommunications infrastructure is so underdeveloped. Specifically, as reported in the IEEE Spectrum Tech Talk, most Haitian ISPs connect to the Internet via satellite and are not dependent on the country's lone undersea fiber optic cable link, which was knocked out the during the quake. The challenge for engineers now is the proverbial last mile--getting local connections to satellites restored so NGOs can get online. What is needed, from a communication hardware perspective, is that additional capacity, in the form of bandwidth, be added for satellite communications.

As I had written in this blog early on during this crisis, the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), a branch of the United Nations, located in Geneva, Switzerland, is providing additional satellite communication capacity (as it has done in numerous disasters prior). Dr. Cosmas Zavazava, the Head of Emergency Communications at the ITU, spoke at the humanitarian logistics conference that I organized, under the auspices of the Rockefeller Foundation. You can find his presentation here, along with many others, or access it directly below.

Our book, Fragile Networks: Identifying Vulnerabilities and Synergies in an Uncertain World, discusses how to identify the most important nodes and links in networks from telecommunications networks to transportation, logistical (including humanitarian ones), and even financial networks.

The United States and western Europe depend heavily on their copper and fiber optic interconnections (which are physical) for phone, Internet, and cable TV. There may be a very ironic lesson here and a critically important one in terms of the resiliency and robustness of telecoomunication infrastructure.