ITU sends satellite phones to Japan

The International Telecommunication Union is sending satellite phones to Japan to help rescue work and to reconnect communities cut off by last Friday's earthquake.

The United Nations' telecom agency will dispatch 13 Iridium satellite phones and 37 Inmarsat BGAN (broadband global area network) terminals that can provide satellite data services. It will also send 78 Thuraya satellite phones equipped with GPS (Global Positioning System) receivers to assist in search and rescue work.

Solar panels will also be supplied for charging the phones in the event that there is no electricity supply. Many areas of the disaster-hit eastern coast of Japan are still without electricity.

The satellite phones will supplement mobile base stations that have already been driven to some parts of the affected area. Each of Japan's major cellular providers has a fleet of the trucks for just such an occasion. They provide a cellular signal over a local area and connect to the carrier's backbone via satellite.

In some areas, satellite phones have also been set up.

Friday's earthquake, the fourth largest ever recorded, caused widespread disruption to telecommunications services across all of east Japan, including Tokyo. Cellular service has stabilized in Tokyo and much of the region, but remains under strain, especially during strong aftershocks.

Martyn Williams covers Japan and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Martyn on Twitter at @martyn_williams. Martyn's e-mail address is martyn_williams@idg.com

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