Crisis communications: The Syrian conundrum

by Staff Reporter | January 2nd, 2013

Sanford Jewett, vice president of marketing, Thuraya Telecommunications Company

Sanford Jewett, VP Marketing, Thuraya, comments on the company’s response to the recent black out of Syria’s mobile and internet access that lasted 48 hours.

The ability to offer a truly congestion-free network solution at no notice is essential given the importance of the communications in question

“Recently Syria’s mobile and internet access suffered a black out lasting 48 hours.  In most situations an outage is at worst an irritation.  In a conflict or disaster situation it can literally mean the difference between life and death.  The desire and need for reliable communications has led to a surge in dependence on mobile satellite communications, surges that often happen with no notice or warning.

According to Jewett, the ability to rapidly deploy congestion-free communications services in conflict areas, is critical.

“In the case of the Syria shut down, information from both Akamai and Renesys showed a rapid drop in internet traffic countered with a sky-high rise in Thuraya’s satellite network traffic.  The ability to offer a truly congestion-free network solution at no notice is essential given the importance of the communications in question.  We addressed this particular instance by securely diverting additional power to the areas affected.  We believe that such ability is critical in ensuring rapidly deployable communications services in conflict areas, and ensuring the safety of individuals.

The press reports on cracked encryption are unfounded, affirms Jewett.

“Security is of the utmost importance when communicating in a crisis or even a disaster scenario.  Recently there has been speculation about the security of mobile satellite communications, with stories about cracked encryption and tracking of callers doing the rounds.  Investigation shows that these claims are unsubstantiated.  Satellite telephony is based on terrestrial GSM standards and like any technology, has its security characteristics and its limitations, including risks of tracing and hacking. Earlier this year, Thuraya reconfigured its network such that to ensure that our users can access services in a way that we believe will render tracing extremely difficult.  Furthermore, given our operator neutrality stance we are independent of any political or national affiliation, and committed to remain so.

The phone can be used indoors contrary to fears that the user would need to step outdoors to make a call, says Jewett.

“Another concern about using mobile satellite communications in situations such as Syria is that traditionally handsets had to be used outside in line of sight of the satellite.  That tended to mean users had to be physically in an open space or on a roof top and in open view.  One advantage of using Thuraya is that we offer repeaters which enable our users to use our products indoors. In addition, our new generation of mobile satellite solutions comes equipped with walk-and- talk functionality that allow users to call on the move without dropping connection.


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