Happy New Year

Happy New Year, and thank you to our partners for helping make 2015 another groundbreaking year for Thuraya.

The year saw us expanding our portfolio as well as extending into several new areas. The XT-PRO and SatSleeve launches; the Expansys online distribution deal; the world’s first GSM + satellite voice package with Etisalat; extensive inroads secured in Africa with Airtel; the Digimed telemedicine solution; Starlight, the new gateway in Cyprus; and much more… there were highlights aplenty.

We have created substantial momentum for 2016. In addition to us focusing on our key growth areas of maritime, M2M, IP and government, you’ll see product, ecosystem and network strategies develop further, with many of you helping to make that happen.

We’ll continue to improve and evolve our newly launched Developer Program enabling our partners to shorten development cycles to bring products to market more quickly with high quality. Developer access to new, emerging hardware and software platforms will nurture greater affordability and ease-of-use too.

The Thuraya Innovation Center in the UAE offers access to our network, on-site technical expertise during the development phase, and hands-on experience with Thuraya development platforms and products. This gives our partners further assistance in getting new products to market.

The Thuraya M2M Beta Program has already made the FT2225 terminal available to application developers, service partners and systems integrators and will be commercially ready in early 2016.

The Thuraya VoIP service will offer a personal, single number to make end-users readily contactable on land and at sea, underlining our commitment to affordable and convenient services for end-users.

All that’s to come, and more, in an exciting 2016 for Thuraya. Meanwhile, this month’s newsletter explores differences already being made by the use of our technology, specifically in the Relief sector. Amal Ezzeddine, Senior Director Government Services, examines ways in which technology is re-shaping the communications landscape for relief operations. Then Najwa Ayoub, Market Development EMEA NGOReliefMedia Manager, answers a Q&A about Thuraya’s support of those in need after the earthquake in Nepal.

We are also pleased to share a case study on establishing a reliable communications network for SOS Children’s Villages in the Central African Republic; and news about our support for the ambitious new crossing of the Empty Quarter in the deserts of the UAE.

Please feel free to send me feedback about how to improve our newsletter – and any suggestions you have about how we might build on our existing communications programme. 

Here’s to a great 2016.  

Christian Cull
Vice President, Marketing & Communications

How Technology is Re-shaping the Communications Landscape for Relief Operations

“As the space and satellite industry continues to grow at a rapid pace, Mobile Satellite Service operators are developing ways to prepare for and break through the complex barriers that will enable technology to reach and assist those in need of it most.”

Amal Ezzeddine, Senior Director Government Services

In times of natural disaster, conflict and disease, the need for vital information is essential and it saves lives. Looking at the natural disasters that have taken place over the years: typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines; the Tsunami in Japan; earthquakes in Haiti, Pakistan, Nepal and China, access to telecommunication services has played a critical role in ensuring a community receives the support it needs.

In the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, Valerie Amos, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, said: “…without direct collaboration with humanitarian organizations, volunteer and technical communities run the risk of mapping needs without being able to ensure that these needs can be met.”

So what steps does the satellite community need to take to prepare for the next natural disaster?

Mobile Satellite Services (MSS) operators must not wait for disaster to strike, before taking steps to help as collaboration on relief efforts cannot afford to be event driven. These steps include that equipment is ready and packaged to be deployed to working teams at short notice and rescue teams should be appropriately trained on the use of communication equipment. It is therefore crucial that this equipment is a part of drills, exercises and any training programs that rescuers undertake. Humanitarian teams need technical support and know-how where it matters most – on the ground. After all, time costs lives. There must be further collaboration and co-operation; and it needs to be continuous.

Because technology can help people in their greatest need, it is a huge responsibility to keep a reliable mission-critical network operational, and to maintain high-quality communications services where and when they are needed. For the satellite community to transform the humanitarian response further, technological advances, operational readiness, immediate transportation and deployment are of key importance.

It’s a well-known fact that, during an environmental or man-made crisis, terrestrial networks become unreliable for a number of reasons, such as congestion or infrastructure destruction. In these situations, NGOs frequently turn to MSS operators for the provision of what could be the only means of communicating with the outside world and for coordinating relief and appropriate responses. Satellite communication in these situations is simply more reliable than terrestrial networks.

Satellite communications are also the most easy to deploy in rural and remote areas. The satellite provides blanket coverage in any country irrespective of being an urban or rural area. End-user equipment and services including satellite handheld terminals for voice connectivity, data terminals for broadband connectivity, help establish effective communications to rural areas which in turn provides people with medical help, medicine, food and emergency communications. This is their main connection to the world. It is also a well-known and proven fact that the availability of Information Communication Technology (ICT) infrastructure in any area acts as a catalyst towards economic stability.

Most recently, a cost-effective DigiMed Solution launched by DigiGone came as a huge advancement in telemedicine. DigiMed bridges an information gap during crises by allowing real-time teleconferencing to take place between doctors and patients at the scene of an emergency. Such solutions continue to revolutionize the field of telemedicine and serve as a vital lifeline for organizations working out in the field or at sea. It provides critical voice communications for relief teams, weather, and mapping services – crucial activities for those working in disaster areas.


New and lightweight flying drones, or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) are also becoming more important in disaster relief. They can run reconnaissance missions in disaster zones, spot stranded people, map changed ground, and document areas that need attention. Drones help deliver communications quickly and efficiently, reaching disaster areas not accessible by road. With the right terminal, drones can take and send images and they can also check the quality of a network, or give the network a boost. Drones have already been used to deliver polio virus vaccinations in Nigeria, Afghanistan and Pakistan as they are capable of carrying up to 10kg in weight.

The intent is to create dependable solutions based on a deep understanding of SAR (search and rescue) requirements, and the environment out in the field. It is critical for those deployed in remote and often dangerous locations to be able to make timely informed decisions regarding SAR activities, emergency management and situational awareness.

Relief users require simple and seamless technology, which can function in the dusty terrains of North Africa or in the rainy tropics of the Philippines. While the satellite technology community has made huge strides in delivering life-saving services and products to them and to those affected by man-made and natural disasters, there is a lot more to be done and the community must continue to build on what has been learnt. 

How satellite made a difference in Nepal

Almost a year after a massive earthquake struck at the heart of Nepal, the country is still trying to recover. Described as the worst earthquake to hit the area in the past 80 years, with more than 3,000 reported deaths by the United Nations (UN) and thousands of injuries and displacements, we take a look at the role Satellite Technology played in the days and months following the quake.

What is the story of Thuraya’s involvement in the Nepalese earthquake? When did Thuraya step into action in Nepal? What was the process leading up to involvement?

Thuraya’s mission has always been to save and improve lives and our mobile satellite network has played a critical role in times of disaster recovery and relief operations over the years. We are often the first deployed provider of communication services for said operations that fall within our coverage area.

We were heavily involved in disaster response efforts in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan in December 2013.
In 2012, The ITU presented us with a Humanitarian Award for our work in supporting communications during disaster recovery and other emergency situations in Japan, Pakistan, Uganda, Myanmar, China, Zambia and Bangladesh.

Nepal was no exception, when the news broke out about the strong and devastating quake we immediately activated our donation policy. We reached out to all of our partners and end users (NGOs, UN-ETC Emergency Telecommunication Cluster, First Responders and Search and rescue teams) to reassure them about the availability of our satellite service in covering the affected area through both data and voice.

We then deployed satellite mobile phones and Broadband terminals to aid in restoring critical communications and help coordinate relief efforts where terrestrial telecommunications infrastructure had been compromised or destroyed.

This deployment to international relief organizations who were on the ground in Nepal took place either directly or through Thuraya Service Partners. Thuraya’s local distributor in Nepal, Constellation, actively supported the deployment of Thuraya terminals.

Additionally, the ITU under its agreement with Thuraya immediately deployed Thuraya terminals to its responders on the ground.

How long was Thuraya active in the response?

Thuraya remained active during the initial few months until terrestrial telecommunications were restored.

Is Thuraya still involved in communications, or are emergency comms no longer needed? 

Thuraya is still heavily involved in Nepal by providing communications to humanitarian organizations who are working on CSR programs for rebuilding remote communities, schools and hospitals. One example of that is our donation to the Himalayanlife Humanitarian organization of a number of Thuraya handsets as well as free airtime.

The Himalayanlife Humanitarian Organization which relies on Thuraya’s donation for communications is currently working on rebuilding the infrastructure in Nepal and has already completed its work on the water canal which is the life line for the village/valley providing both water for rice fields as well as for the electric power plant. The work on schooling has also commenced although in a slightly different form. Due to the insecure paths through the mountains, instead of a central school for the whole valley the organization has now decided to start local schools in the villages themselves, one of them already being fully operational.

Another aspect of our involvement in Nepal, although not currently activated, will involve training and assisting the Nepalese first responders and municipalities on using our equipment and educating them about the importance of pre-deployment and preparedness. This will ultimately take place under the UN’s supervision and as part of the terms of the Crises Connectivity Charter that Thuraya signed in Geneva a few months ago.

Natural disasters are challenging in that they are all so different. What was a challenge that was unique to the situation in Nepal?

It is true that they are all different yet they all have one common element; access to telecommunication services is vital if a community is to get the support it needs.

A major challenge that always hinders quick response is getting equipment across borders, bureaucracy and process can slow things down, as can border controls. Fortunately, for Nepal this wasn’t an issue for us since we have a Service Partner in Katmandu that was able to deliver the equipment to the teams on the ground and helped coordinate with customs clearance.

However, a challenge we did face was the need to educate users in Nepal on how to use our handsets (i.e. handsets to be used outdoors-raise the antenna for signal and better reception – etc…). We eventually managed to overcome this challenge but we realized that SAR teams need to be well-trained, and they need to test their pre-deployed equipment frequently, for operational readiness.

In your opinion, has Nepal progressed in its preparedness for future disasters, or is this an area that needs more improvement?

Nepal is currently listed as one of the 20 areas prone to natural disasters by the UN-ETC-OCHA-ESOA Crises Connectivity Charter. As mentioned previously it is crucial to educate and train first responders, but for communications, pre-deployment is also a key factor that can save lives.