Satcom: Cellular Fixed Wireless Helps Deliver Mercy

Monday, March 08, 2004

Mercy Ships is a nonprofit organization operating medical relief ships that travel to the poorest countries of the world to perform medical services and community development programs. In order to serve such communities, the ships have three basic requirements: a place to dock, fresh water and telephone access. In these poor countries, it is very common to have a wired public phone system that is very old, overloaded, and not readily available at the dockside. However, GSM cellular service is generally available in the port area, so finding a way to use that cellular service has been a must for Mercy Ships.

In their quest to access the GSM cellular service, Mercy Ships discovered Telular Corporation, a cellular fixed wireless company whose patented RJ-11 (standard phone jack) to cellular interface technology enables users to connect to cellular service using standard phones, faxes and modems. For Mercy Ships, this was a crucial and cost-effective advantage to Telular's products. Mercy Ships installed two of Telular's Phonecell SX5e GSM Fixed Wireless Private Branch Exchange (PBX) Terminals on its Caribbean Mercy ship, providing dial-tone connectivity to the ship's PBX via Belize Telecom's DigiCell GSM network. To make the connection, Mercy Ships simply had to connect Telular's terminals to the ship's PBX via a standard RJ11 plug on the back of the terminal and connect the terminals to a power source (electrical jack or battery power). The terminals then access the nearest cellular signal (pictured left). Now, when a crewmember picks up the phone, a dial tone is present and the phone operates just as if it were connected to a landline network. As long as a cellular network is available, Mercy Ships will be able to connect to that network with Telular's terminals. To receive a strong signal from the cellular system, Telular's terminals are mounted in the captain's anteroom on the boat deck, the highest deck on the ship. The antennae for each of the units are mounted remotely on the roof (deckhead) of the boat deck to give best signal performance. A variety of pole or mast mount omni-directional antennas are available for the special operating conditions of a water surface environment. Mercy Ships estimates that 50 calls are placed per day while in port, enabling them to coordinate patient appointments, order supplies and have them delivered, and coordinate between ship-based medical units and clinics in the village. "Our phones are almost in the same class as the generators that produce electricity for the ship," said Don Golden, IT Manager for M/V Caribbean Mercy. "We tend to take our phone connection for granted, but we could not do the surgeries and provide services without it." — ByDan Wonak, Snr. VP of Marketing, Telular

Mercy Ships, PetroCom in SatCom Project

PetroCom, LLC and Mercy Ships last year teamed with a consortium of telecom providers to bring a satellite-based communications network for the Caribbean Mercy. Tom Dane, Satellite Sales Engineer for PetroCom, says, "We have designed and delivered a highly reliable system which meets the unique requirements of Mercy Ships." Under the three-year agreement, PetroCom LLC, Satellites Mexicanos S.A. de C.V. and DDB Unlimited Inc. will provide the necessary electronics, satellite bandwidth, and system monitoring and project management to provide full time voice, data and Internet access for the Mercy Ship. The system was installed and commissioned in Port Canaveral, Fla., on August 8, just prior to Caribbean Mercy's voyage to Dangriga, Belize. According to Mercy Ships CIO Kreig Ecklund, "As we continue to expand our reach around the world, reliable communications are playing an increasingly important role. The expertise and contribution of PetroCom and its partners are vital to our plans for meeting the health and wellness needs of the world's poorest populations."

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