Rebuilding in Afghanistan with Satellite Technology

Rebuilding in Afghanistan with Satellite Technology

NewsWeek and Pertec International 2005

Regional BGAN is fast becoming an essential tool for efficient construction project management, in countries such as Afghanistan, as it allows workers to share large data files, such as digital photos and blueprints with their HQ.

Eric Duneman is one such individual. He works as a construction manager for the US-based international development organization CHF International. Currently, Eric is working on a project to build a new road and repair an irrigation system in the central highlands of Afghanistan. Before that he was managing the construction and renovation of 130 rural schools and clinics throughout the country.

The realities of trying to rebuild a country like Afghanistan are pretty raw. The telecom infrastructure is poor, electricity coverage patchy, the road network largely non-existent. Yet in the midst of this harsh environment, organizations and individuals are fighting against the odds to make things better.

Helping him greatly in his work is a Regional BGAN satellite IP modem, which is enabling the 34-year-old American to submit engineering changes and progress reports without having to drive to the nearest city.

Instead, Regional BGAN allows Eric to maintain regular contact with his HQ through e-mail and instant messaging. In addition, he can send large data files, including digital photographs, spreadsheets and blueprints, which are vital for efficient construction project management.

For Eric, Regional BGAN has become both an essential tool and a preferred choice, enabling him to work much more quickly and effectively than ever before.

"The main benefit is that I can now stay in touch with the office efficiently wherever I happen to be, whereas before I was incommunicado for long periods of time, relying on snail mail and once-a-week phone calls," he explains.

With electricity also a hit-and-miss affair in the country, Eric carries several batteries for his Regional BGAN terminal. These can be charged via an in-car charger.

When he arrives on site, Eric fires up his Regional BGAN and IBM notebook computer and is able to exchange photographs, spreadsheets and blueprints with other interested individuals both in Afghanistan and the US.

He can also access the Internet to research contractors and equipment, and track the progress of storms across the Himalayas.

For Jesse Fripp, deputy director of special initiatives at CHF International, Regional BGAN is fast becoming indispensable. The organization now has around a dozen terminals, not just in Afghanistan but in many other countries where it is working on aid programmes.

"What we do is all about communities. Regional BGAN allows us to serve those communities much more effectively," he says.

In addition to using Regional BGAN to provide a data link between workers in the field and its Washington HQ, CHF is now also looking to use it to enable applications that will directly benefit affected communities. These include telemedicine diagnostics for clinics, and Internet access for schools in isolated areas.

There are several companies involved in CHF’s work in Afghanistan. Airtime for Eric’s Regional BGAN terminal is supplied by The MVS Group. The terminal was supplied by I-Linx – a Washington-based Inmarsat partner that also supplies equipment for other CHF International projects around the world.

"Our skill is in offering consultancy services for NGOs (non-government organizations) in addition to providing the equipment," says I-Linx partner Joel Schroeder.

I-Linx is currently involved in several Regional BGAN projects, including an e-learning initiative in the Middle East and Africa and a telemedicine application in India where software on a laptop computer is being used to provide medical diagnoses.

The company is also involved in a project to provide emergency response much closer to home, in Washington DC, in the event of a natural disaster or other form of civil emergency.

According to Schroeder, Regional BGAN is particularly useful to NGOs because the modems are so compact and energy efficient.

"They use less power than a laptop and can be very easily charged using a solar panel," he says. "Rival satellite technologies require much more energy."

Another benefit of Regional BGAN is that it combines easily with the latest Wi-Fi equipped PDAs (personal digital assistants) for portable use.

I-Linx is currently developing PDA-based software to address a number of given scenarios for its Washington DC-based emergency response project. In the event of an incident, aid workers will go through the appropriate options on their PDA for a more rapid and efficient response.

Similarly, I-Linx is involved in an education and job-training programme with an NGO in both Yemen and Lebanon to provide bespoke PDA applications via Regional BGAN. Here, staff will be able to use their PDAs for filling in applications and uploading CVs and photos on behalf of the job seekers.

The rebuilding work in countries like Afghanistan and Iraq will take many years to complete. But those working on the projects know that with Regional BGAN, they have the best that satellite communications technology has to offer to help them in their task.  

Region: Afghanistan
Area of expertise: Economic Development