Haiti Earthquake: Communications Still A Challenge

As survivors of last week’s 7.0 earthquake in Haiti tussle over food, water and medical shortages, they’re also struggling with an unreliable communications system. Wireline, cellular and broadband companies are doing what they can to restore services in the Caribbean country, but they’re facing a number of challenges.

On Friday, Trilogy International, the U.S.-based owner of the Comcel Voilà GSM mobile network, said its network is running, but power is unsustainable. Voilà serves about 1 million Haitians. Yet, even before the earthquake, Haiti’s electricity grid could only support about eight hours per day of power. Voilà would then run diesel generators to finish out the day. Trilogy/Voilà have a disaster recovery team on hand, according to TeleGeography; members are checking damage on the approximately 300 cell sites across Haiti and next plan to get wireless data access back up and running.

At the same time, two local ISPs – Access Haiti and Hainet – have restored their services. A third ISP, Multilink, appears to still be trying to fix the problems incurred by the temblor, which may have killed as many as 100,000 people in a mere 60 seconds.

Access Haiti, for its part, is letting people make IP phone calls to loved ones, said TeleGeography. And IDT Corp. is working with Access Haiti to put calling stations in hotels and other such sites for earthquake survivors to make international calls over the IDT VoiceLine service. The plus side there is that VoiceLine does not depend on the local landline network operated by Teleco, which saw major damage from the earthquake, TeleGeography reported.

Telecom equipment makers also have stepped in to help. China-based ZTE Corp. has supplied Haiti’s government officials with solar-powered GSM handsets and a trunking system – ZTE provided those same trunking systems in its home country after the May 2008 earthquake in the Sichuan region, according to TeleGeography. Meanwhile, Sweden’s Ericsson is deploying a container-based mini GSM system for mobile communications.

Finally, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) last week sent 40 satellite terminals to Haiti for basic communications. The ITU also shipped 60 more terminals that offer satellite broadband. TeleGeography said the agency also plans to set up a complete cellular system that resides in a small, self-contained unit.

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