Thursday, July 31, 2014

Tip of the Day: Finding Reliable Voice Communications Day-to-Day, International Crises

If your employer or organization has made the commitment to actually operate in more than a dozen countries abroad, particularly in developing or high-threat locations, I strongly encourage you to INVEST in voice communications options other than wireless service, otherwise you're going to be positioning yourself for business continuity disruption.

Let's be really honest. Most cellular service "goes down," the moment there is a national emergency, even if it is nothing more than a natural disaster.

That being said, if there is political unrest; frequent potentially violent demonstrations; national emergencies that impact on the entire country; acts of terrorism that interrupt conventional communications; and continuation of business continuity.

Practically speaking, any organization that has a major material or human resource investment in operating in developing and/or high-threat nations should have a combination of HF/VHF radio systems and sat-phone integration

1. HF/VHF Radio Systems. These radio systems are generally best suited for a long-term-resident situation because of the high cost of procurement, configuration, installation and long-term maintenance. For example, two base stations, mobile vehicular units, and twelve handhelds can easily run into six figures, depending upon the terrain and whether the system is operating in duplex (with repeaters) or simplex (without repeaters), the latter of which is fraught with risk;

If you use HF/VHF radio systems, you must obtain approval from the country’s Ministry of Telecommunications to use a series of frequencies. If your employer is an NGO directly affiliated with the United Nations, you may be able to use UN frequencies;

Another option is to purchase a system from a local radio distributor and use its frequencies, yet both of the above options rarely enable you to communicate in an encrypted mode, which means you're going to be communicating in the "clear," which means your transmissions are going to understood by someone;

Note that the distributor is likely to monitor your traffic unless you use a disciplined call sign system to conceal users, places, and situations or shift to much more expensive equipment that will encrypt your radio transmissions. Reputable companies that can help you design and set up a system include:; and/or

Cell phone and/or HF/VHF radio systems should be used for day-to-day communications.

2. Satellite Phone Systems. These self-contained systems are ideal for both long-term and short-term operations and are particularly suited for large-scale emergencies. I cannot tell you the number of times I have seen SAT-PHONES save lives. They are preferred for operations in developing countries.

For guidance on how to purchase a sat-phone I suggest the below link from Forbes

Also, see the below resource that advises purchasers on technical guidance:

SAT-PHONES eliminate the need for government approvals, are cheaper in the short-term, more secure and cannot be shut down by host governments. On the other hand, they are expensive ($1,000–$2,000 per unit) when supporting a large number of people. Satellite phone charges can be $3 to $15 per minute (depending on range between communicating units). 

SAT-PHONES provide high-quality direct-dial, voice, fax, and e-mail capabilities and require virtually no installation. They are similar to radios in that they communicate by line of sight (the antenna must “see” the satellite); 

Most briefcase-configured sat-phones weigh about 20 pounds and can operate on direct and alternating power supplies. The following companies are the major providers of sat-phones:

Before purchasing any sat-phone, ask to observe an actual demonstration from the country you plan to use the phone in and the site of your home office.  Other tips include:

a. Ask for testimonials;
b. Compare prices of both rental and purchase before you decide;
c. Talk to other competitors and compare costs;
d. If you are a government agency, ask whether the provider is on a discounted schedule;
e. If possible, see if the provider will permit you to test the units during a trial period for
    actual costs only.

Also, please review the linked piece from Forbes before purchasing a sat-phone:

Reputable sat-phone providers include:

I also invite our readers to contact me via email or telephone for questions not addressed in this Tip of the Day:

Ed Lee @ 1-231-360-5105 or