Verizon makes its satellite dishes available as standard service

Used primarily after disasters, the service can also support IPTV streaming from events

Verizon has announced it is turning its 19 years of responding to hurricanes and disasters with ground-based mobile satellite technology into a standard service for a variety of businesses and governments.

Customers in government, retail and other businesses can set up the mobile satellite service to gain access within 24 to 36 hours to communications trailers and other vehicles equipped with satellite dishes and data ports to be used with voice-over-IP phones and computers.

Verizon fleet of mobile satellites
Verizon's fleet of mobile satellites, which are used to restore communications after a disaster, are being offered as a standard service to local governments and businesses. (Photo courtesy of Verizon)

The satellite dishes communicate over a special KU satellite wireless band with a fleet of stationary satellites above Earth, which then communicate with a global network of 10,000 terrestrial satellite bases already operated by Verizon. Verizon will then connect its mobile satellite customers to its global private IP network, which runs over a multi-protocol label switching (MPLS) network.

Customers can use the service to pre-arrange mobile satellite services for communications following natural and man-made disasters. But the service could also be valuable, for example, to stream IPTV video for training purposes or to multicast a live presentation at a trade show to a global audience, said Stuart Burson, group manager for Verizon's Satellite Solutions Group. The Plano, Texas-based group is centrally located, making it possible for gear to reach areas within the continental U.S. within 24 hours, Burson said.

"This service gives customers another means of access to MPLS...but it takes the fixed solution and makes it mobile and gives customers the opportunity to standardize the response," Burson explained. The customer arranges the service in advance with a retainer fee and is then first in line to receive trailers and other vehicles equipped with satellite dishes during an emergency. The service would reduce the time it takes to restore the customer's network and provide greater predictability with costs, Burson said.

For example, a retailer might need to support point-of- sale data solutions for 10 to 5,000 sites. In the case of a local police or fire department responding to a hazardous waste spill, a Verizon trailer unit could set up a 2Mbps or 5Mbps satellite connection, with all the data capacity prioritized for voice for 24 or 48 callers.

Burson said he couldn't offer pricing for the new service because Verizon is willing to pre-arrange a multitude of configurations.

Verizon has previously worked with private businesses and governments on disaster recovery of networks, but it provided only custom solutions. Now, Verizon will work with a customer on a set of services that fit into the customer's set of master services. "That way we can have the services ready when needed, and we already understand what applications need to run, what a customer's bandwidth needs are and more," Burson added.

A customer doesn't need a Verizon MPLS contract to receive mobile satellite services, he added.

An added benefit of the service is that it works well within a customer's network security design, Burson said. The mobile satellite vehicle can be used to put a customer behind a corporate firewall with its own corporate security configurations, eliminating the need for each user to connect via a VPN. In addition to the satellite connection, Verizon can arrange to have a trailer equipped with Wi-Fi for nearby users and will assign a Verizon technician to keep the network running around the clock, Burson added.

"The person deployed on site keeps things running and the generators fueled," he said. "He stays with you throughout the event."

Like other major wireless carriers, Verizon has provided free humanitarian networking services following a variety of disasters in the past two decades, including Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the Sept. 11 World Trade Center attacks and the Oklahoma City bombing.

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed. His e-mail address is mhamblen@computerworld.com.

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