Inmarsat wins MacRobert award

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Satellite technology that helped the Haiti earthquake relief effort has won the Royal Academy of Engineering’s MacRobert Award, Britain’s biggest prize for engineering innovation.

A team from London-based Inmarsat was presented with a £50,000 prize and the MacRobert Award medal last night for the its Broadband Global Area Network (BGAN) service.

BGAN’s telephony and data services are delivered to users via portable or mobile terminals which communicate to ground stations through twelve geosynchronous telecommunications satellites.

The system is used widely for remote connectivity by businesses, governments, broadcasters, aid and relief agencies, and emergency services.

Following the Haiti earthquake Télécoms Sans Frontières (TSF) set up multiple broadband access points and phonelines for co-ordinating disaster relief and humanitarian calls.

TSF deployed BGAN and Mini M satellite terminals to support emergency co-ordination and logistics centres near the airport in the Haiti capital Port-au-Prince.

The American Red Cross also deployed Inmarsat BGAN terminals to help organise the relief effort.

Around three million people were affected by the Haiti earthquake, which occurred on January 12 approximately 16 miles from Port-au-Prince. By January 24 around 52 aftershocks had been recorded.

According to a statement from the Royal Academy of Engineering, 472 individual user terminals accessed the BGAN spot beam over Haiti on January 20.

At one moment during relief operations 137 terminals (supporting many more individual users) were sending and receiving data whilst at the same time 35 telephone conversations were underway. During the course of the day, the beam was used for a total 36,054 minutes of communication.

This instant response was made possible by the BGAN 3G communication service, which was launched with the first Inmarsat-4 satellite in 2005, and scaled up to a fully global service with the deployment of the third Inmarsat-4 satellite and a repositioning of the satellite fleet in February 2009.