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Manx Telecom, the incumbent telecoms and broadband supplier on the Isle of Man, has switched on an extended mobile network (EMN) delivering integrated cellular and satellite connectivity as part of a trial to offer ubiquitous coverage.
The system aims to be the world’s first communications service that is able to switch between multiple cellular networks and a direct-to-user (DtU) mobile satellite network provided by Globalstar.
“First responders face an ever-growing array of operational challenges,” said Globalstar CEO Jay Monroe. “The EMN system, incorporating our reliable satellite network, will help ensure first responders can continuously communicate and help them perform their significant roles more effectively.”
The EMN will use Globalstar’s low-Earth orbit satellites to provide a system that will allow users to communicate as normal with existing smartphone devices in any situation. This will be done by using smart SIM technology provided by Manx Telecom to hand over connectivity to either another mobile network or the satellite service, should the primary signal be disrupted.
The system will support a new first responder auxiliary network (Fran) for blue light services, set to be trialled later in 2016. It is hoped Fran will offer communications continuity across the UK – not just on the Isle of Man – allowing emergency services teams in the field to continue making and receiving calls under testing cirucmstances.
This may save lives in fast-developing emergency situations – such as the recent winter floods – where a combination of network overload and infrastructure damage saw mobile networks cut off in parts of the country.
The ability to switch between networks will be even more important once the emergency services begin to switch onto the Emergency Services Network (ESN) – an enhanced public mobile network supplied by EE – in the next few years.
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Previous attempts to offer ubiquitous mobile communications using satellite backhaul have come up short because they still depend on terrestrial infrastructure. This is a problem that DtU is able to circumvent because the satellites are orbiting much closer to the Earth’s surface and so do not perform as a backhaul network.
Low-Earth orbit satellites also have much lower latency – simply because they are closer in – and are considered more reliable because there are one or more of them visible from any given point.
“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,” said Manx Telecom CEO Gary Lamb.
“Our firm view is that Fran can uniquely provide emergency services personnel with communications networks they can rely on, wherever they are, 24/7.”