Aid Workers Rebuilding Haiti Networks

Carriers and aid workers are scrambling to rebuild communications in Haiti following the catastrophic Jan. 12 earthquake there. Haiti's wired telecommunications system was devastated, and it is still nearly impossible for most people to make a land-line call, said Rick Perera, a spokesman for CARE, a U.S.-based aid organization.

"When you drive around and look at what the wires and poles look like, it's just beyond imagination," Perera said. He predicted that the country may abandon its wired network and go strictly wireless as it rebuilds.

In the first few days after the quake, the only way CARE employees could reliably communicate with headquarters in Atlanta was via SMS texting, Perera said. But the situation is gradually improving as some cell phone service and BlackBerry e-mail service is restored. Plus, aid groups have rushed to install broadband satellite links.

As of late January, the wired broadband in CARE's Haiti office was working intermittently, and the organization's Internet service provider had managed to upgrade the link to about 1Mbit/sec., Perera said. CARE brought in its own IT specialist from the U.S. and has been setting up voice-over-IP phones, while communications aid group NetHope Inc. has been helping CARE set up a VSAT satellite connection, he said.

Meanwhile, Télécoms Sans Frontières, an emergency telecommunications aid group, has set up broadband satellite links for the United Nations peacekeeping force, the national police headquarters and an aid operations center at Haiti's main airport.

This version of this story was originally published in Computerworld's print edition. It's an edited version of an article that first ran on

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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