Satellite Communications & Mapping

Phone communications and apps are your friend. With a cellular link you can get the word out. With internet access, photos, maps, live video, tracking, communications and reportage can happen. While cellular may be among the first things to go, satellite trucks may bring it back pretty fast. Gasoline for generators is the tricky bit.

Cellular Communications
Cellular communications is probably your best option, but service could be non-functional, since the towers require electricity and generators require gas. Switching centers may be non-operational as well. Still, Cellular On Wheels (COWs) and Cellular on Light Trucks (COLTs) could come to the rescue in a matter of days.

What cellular carrier should I use? Whatever works. Cell phone carriers that lease their capacity out to Virtual Operators (MVNOs) may have some advantages. In Oregon they generally offer better deals although may be the first to get “bounced” in an emergency. Still, they may be cheaper and you MAY have the option of paying ONLY for the voice and data you use, rather than a flat monthly rate. Google’s Project Fi has that option as does Ting and Tello. Republic Wireless uses wifi telephony first for calls, using cellular when WiFi is not available.

Look for 4G LTE data plans that support tethering and hotspot sharing. Cricket’s Unlimited $55 plan uses ATT and offers 8GB of mobile hotspot data. Sprint Freedom ($60/mo) is the only “base” unlimited data plan that includes 10GB of high speed mobile hotspot data. Sprint’s prepaid arm, called Sprint Forward ($60), has Unlimited Talk, Text and Data. Customers using more than 23GB of data during billing cycle will be deprioritized during times of congestion.

The Sprint Magic Box is a small WiFi-like device that uses LTE Relay which enables Sprint to use one 2.5 GHz radio for both backhaul and end-user connection, by using different time slices on the same frequency to avoid interference. Time Division makes operation more cost effective since only one radio is used, not two. Huawei makes a similar device called “Crowdcell”. These boxes regenerate a distant cellular signal to full power locally.

FireChat is a free messaging app for public and private communications that works even without Internet access or cellular data. You can create a chatroom on any topic that can gather as many as tens of thousands of people simultaneously. When your phone is connected to the Internet, the chatrooms become the place for live communication between people everywhere in the world.

Zello offers push to talk on any Wi-Fi or data plan. Create talk channels. Anywhere. Anytime. Push to talk is fast and convenient for groups, which can be public or private. It uses cellular channels or WiFi.

An ordinary AM/FM radio is probably the first thing you need to pack. Here’s THE OREGON STATE EMERGENCY ALERT PLAN for radio and television. Sirius XM might also be handy, especially integrated in a boombox. There will be a channel. And music WILL be a vital component to keep everyone sane.

Satellite Phones
Iridium, Globalstar and Inmarsat support phone and low speed data for safety services on the L-band (1452–1492 MHz). Iridium and Globalstar phones are handheld. Inmarsat uses geosynchronous satellites so their satphones generally need a stationary (but small) antenna.

Geosynchrous satellites
Commercial satellite operators such as Hughes, ViaSat, Intelsat and SES are pursuing high-throughput satellites (HTS), flat antennas and higher performance. Inmarsat’s Fleet One provides NW fishing boats with data while outside shore-based VHF or GSM coverage areas. These L-band devices won’t be broadband, but they can handle voice and low speed data.

The SES MEO satellite constellations (like O3b), and GEO High throughput satellites, such as ViaSat/HughesNet for consumers and Intelsat/Inmarsat for commercial users, utilize concentrated spot beams that are stronger so smaller antennas can access them.

Royal Caribbean contracted with SES to provide services using the O3b fleet of medium Earth orbit (MEO). Royal Caribbean’s Symphony of the Seas, the world’s largest cruise ship, will hold more than 6,000 passengers, equivalent a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier, and delivers WiFi on its Oasis-class ships for about $15/day.

The Intelsat Horizons 1, at 127°W, brings C- and Ku- band connectivity to our region.

Maritime Satellites
Inmarsat runs a global (GEO) satellite system designed around the maritime industry and other businesses that need remote communications. Their mobile phone systems use the lower frequency L band (about 1.4 GHz) for voice and low speed data.

For traditional broadband, using GEO satellites, Inmarsat’s Global Xpress Ka-band (20/30 GHz) uses Inmarsat-5 (F2 & F3 for Oregon). International airliners with a streamlined dome may have it. Inmarsat’s Ka-band satellites deliver true broadband but it’s expensive and requires a pretty big dish.

Mobile internet access between 64Kbps and 500Kbps is available through Inmarsat and generally uses a small terminal because Inmarsat doesn’t use a LEO constellation. The Inmarsat IsatPhone 2 handheld ($750) is the exception, but operates on their global GEO I-4 satellite network.

The $1200 Wideye iSavi IsatHub uses Inmarsat. Data speeds: download- up to 380 Kbps, upload- up to 240 Kbps, the cheapest airtime package (at is “Standby” at $220 a year, outgoing voice- $0.99 a minute, outgoing SMS- $0.49, data- $3.85 per MB.

Do the math here… $3.85 per MB is $385 per GB. So let’s hope you’re working on the government’s dime. No Netflix.

Satellite Imagery
Live satellite imagery is available from the ISS, WorldView, Landview, Skywatch, URtheCast, BlackSky and others.

Sentinel-1 radar data gets updated every 6-12 days while Landsat 8 and 7 satellites have have 8 days shifts between them. Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) satellites work in all weather conditions, through clouds, day and night, because they bounce microwave pulses off targets. With a large enough SAR constellation, you might track virtually anything, anywhere.

Minisat antennas on boats
Yachts, commercial fishing boats, and large vessels frequently use KVH satellite terminals. KVH utilizes a small, gimble-mounted dome for higher frequency broadband satellites. Because the beam is less focused, however, adjoining satellites on the geosynchronous arc cause it more interference. The proprietary KVH modulation scheme minimizes any co-satellite interference.

The KVH system is less efficient and results in slower data rates with higher operational costs, but the smaller dish is a good match for smaller vessels that don’t use much airtime. In an emergency, look for commercial vessels or high-end yachts with small domes above the top deck.

The TracPhone V7-HTS achieves data download speeds of up to 10 Mbps, three times faster than current 60cm models on the market, using the new Intelsat Epic high throughput satellites, although it’s mostly an East Coast thing.

Industrial/Commercial Satellite Broadband
Ground Control has been a leader in auto-deploy satellite antennas and offer a wide line of high-speed fixed, mobile, portable, maritime, and M2M/SCADA solutions for thousands of professionals and agencies.

There’s a range of professional equipment and services that’s available to agencies. The Malheur County Sheriff uses Ground Control’s Toughsat XP on a mobile command trailer.

If you’ve got an extra $30K, by all means, get a professional satellite trailer (Sat Trailer User Manual). But be warned…the data bill can kill you. DISASTER Mobile 10 Day Plans run several hundred dollars…and up.

Cellullar networks require much more centralized overhead, of course, for consumer billing and network functions. Sprint uses Gilat for satellite backhaul and upgraded its nationwide Emergency Response Team (ERT) to LTE using Satellite Cellular on Light Truck. CoLTs and COWs re-establish cellular service, but after a major earthquake, roads and gas availability could be show stoppers.

Satellite Access from a Van or RV specializes in providing tripod-based portable systems for RVs that continually roam into different spot beams. Residential systems provision more easily because they stay within one spot beam.

The RV DataSAT 840 is a new consumer-focused satellite internet terminal, designed specifically for RV roof mounting. The accompanying Insta-Sat service plans allows pay-as-you go data to be purchased without a contract, monthly fee, or long term commitment. Sprinter Tech, in St. Johns, installs satellite dishes in vans like the Sprinter.

But we could sacrifice the auto-positioning satellite dish for a cheaper, tripod-mounted Gen 5 dish with a flat 100 GB a month service plan. That means Viasat2 and Jupiter2 terminals. Satellite access using Hughes Gen5 is available now. Stash the dish in a trailer or use it in a community center. Hospitals, fire stations and businesses, large and small, could use a contingency plan. This could be one.

In Puerto Rico, FEMA workers are using Kymeta’s flat satellite antenna on SUVs to connect their laptops. Kymeta’s relatively inexpensive flat antenna may make satellite access from a car or boat far more practical. It’s the size and shape of a stop sign. No need for gimbal mounting.

Kymeta’s stop-sign-sized (28-inch-wide) antenna and terminal is available at a packaged price of $25,000 and uses Kalo’s Ku-band service which is accessible from virtually anywhere in the world, thanks to Intelsat’s constellation of 52 telecom satellites.
Monthly charges for Intelsat’s Kalo service currently range from $29 for a gigabyte of data to $899 for 80 gigabytes. That’s relatively cheap for commercial users, but about ten times the cost of consumer satellite internet.

Kymeta’s antennas are expected to cost as little as $250 in an 8-inch-wide, car-friendly antenna, ideally connected to a LEO broadband constellation like OneWeb.

Consumer Satellite Broadband
High Throughput Satellites are revolutionizing consumer satellite broadband. The latest Generation 5 satellites and user terminals, from ViaSat (Viasat 2) and HughesNet (Jupiter 2) can now provide the speed and capacity of professional equipment for less than a tenth the cost. Data fees are cheaper than cellular. That’s the bottom line.

Consumer internet satellites like Jupiter 2 (from HughesNet) and Viasat 2 (from ViaSat) will be key to bringing affordable broadband to the general public when cellular service is down for the count. They deliver broadband capacity competitive with DSL and cable modems.

Small commercial internet satellite terminals are NOT dependent on ground-based towers or switching centers. A 1000 watt solar array and a couple of deep cycle batteries may power satellite-fed WiFi. No gas. No cellular.

Inexpensive broadband access could be provided right in your own backyard. Wouldn’t it be cheap insurance to install a $600 satellite hub in community centers? It’s cheaper than cellular and provides a backup for cable modems. Right now.

Viasat2 and Jupiter2 both deliver 100 GB a month for around $100/month. Cellular delivers only 10GB a month for the same $100/month. Cell service may not be there when you need it most. Satellite internet isn’t better than landlines, but it’s cheaper and faster than cellular.

MobilSat has plans that let you roam thru different satellite service areas, even with the latest Gen5 consumer satellites. HitchInch and Technomadia have lots of RV communications tips.

Aircraft WiFi
Gogo and ViaSat are the two major in-flight wifi providers. Delta currently relies on Gogo, which uses an air-to-ground (ATG) network. Air to Ground networks aren’t much good if the jet is grounded and no service is available. We need satellite access.

Delta has the largest current fleet of Gogo 2Ku aircraft and Alaska Airlines will install Gogo’s 2Ku on its entire Boeing and Airbus fleet. Virgin America currently uses ViaSat for WiFi. ViaSat covers over 90% of the world’s most popular flight routes using a combination of its global Ku-band and Ka-band networks. Long distance airplanes like the Boeing 777 and 787 would likely have satellite internet.

Military Comsat Communications
Military comsats like the Navy’s MUOS satphone satellites were designed 20 years ago and were obsolete the day they launched. The Pentagon is simply incapable of delivering any modern satellite.

The DOD’s $24B TSAT system was canceled after multiple failures and cost overruns (pdf). It was meant to provide real-time global connectivity and Battle Command-On-The-Move capability for Small Mobile Units.

A persistent “eye in the sky” will enable an Insitu Integrator drone with a Redkite camera package to track thousands of significant movers all of the time, everywhere in a city, from 15,000 feet.

The DOD uses Milstar and AEHF and lots of civilian satellites, especially for drone links.

Companies like SES, Intelsat and Inmarsat are the primary suppliers of commercial bandwidth for UAVs. The DOD has an old-timey network, unlikely to be competitive with today’s High Throughput Satellites.

Portland’s 142nd National Guard will supply (JISCC) Joint Incident Site Communications Capability. It will provide satellite service while interlacing communication assets between agencies with internet, telephone, and radio communication.

Proposed New Broadband Satellite Constellations
Giant LEO satellite constellations have been announced by OneWeb and SpaceX among others.

OneWeb’s constellation, backed by Qualcomm, Softbank, Virgin Group and others, plans about 700 low orbit satellites to deliver broadband to cell towers (not end users). They should be available in a couple of years.

The 4,000 satellite SpaceX network would feature user terminals fitted with $100 to $300 phased-array antennas for world-wide broadband.

LeoSat Enterprises, another Washington-based startup plans to launch a constellation of 78 to 108 Ka band communications satellites for high-speed connections.

At least six companies have filed plans for new satellite constellations. LEO/MEO constellations are proposed by Boeing, OneWeb, SpaceX, Telesat, and Theia Holdings, among others. They all can’t get what they want.

O3B Next satellites would have 30,000 fully shapeable and steerable beams on 24 Medium Earth Orbit satellites. SES’ plans are most directly in competition with ViaSat, which is also planning a 24 satellite MEO constellation as well.

Satellite Imagery
Weather satellites and imaging satellites are becoming a commodity that’s easily accessed. Landsat 8 data is available for anyone to use on Amazon. The satellite images the entire Earth every 16 days at a roughly 30 meter resolution. Mapbox uses Landsat on AWS to power Landsat-live, a browser-based map that is constantly refreshed.

Worldview bought GeoEye in 2013 with GeoEye 2 renamed WorldView 4 after the merger. WorldView-3 from Digitial Globe and Eros-C from ImageSat International can produce 2″ resolution images from space.

Satellite imagery from Digital Globe and the Airbus Constellation are giving way to microsat startup companies using small sats in low orbit constellations with much faster (hourly) updates. Daily images are now available from Google’s Terra Bella, BlackSky, Planet Labs and Earthcast.

Planet Labs launched 146 satellites in 2017, for near real-time earth monitoring. Right now. Today.

UrtheCast’s camera aboard the Space Station is live. With the satellite constellation, you could, in effect, get virtually unlimited dwell time.

Seattle-based BlackSky has a satellite manufacturing facility in Seattle and plans to launch 60 satellites over the next few years. BlackSky’s initial demonstration spacecraft, called Pathfinder, was launched in September 2016. Global-1 is the first of four smallsats scheduled to launch in 2019 with 1-meter resolution.

They plan on delivering virtually “live” space images for $90 a pop. For Portland, BlackSky may achieve revisit times around 15 minutes with image delivery times better than 20 minutes for the majority of cases. Faster than a drone.

While larger satellites, such as DigitalGlobe’s WorldView 4 may have higher (1 ft) resolution, the newer small sat constellations offer 1 meter resolution with near “live” updates.

The idea is you could get a “live” picture from space in 90 minutes for under $90 from their website. BlackSky contracts with space access firms and delivers a cost-effective Geo-spacial product.

Satellite Mapping
Satellite imaging from traditional sources like Digital Globe and Airbus are getting new competition from Earth-Imaging Start-ups, and drones. They enable mapathon organizers and Digital Humanitarian Organzations to create maps that show near real-time status of roads and infrastructure.

SpaceNet provides a public dataset of multi-spectral satellite imagery with building annotations, automating image recognition for real-time mapping of humanitarian crisis. explains how to get started.

The 2017 Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT) helps residents and relief workers navigate the path to recovery after a disaster and anticipate future needs. After Hurricane Harvey, Irma, and the earthquake in Mexico, HOT and other collaborative spaces have been working together to provide critical data and maps for first responders and affected populations. The Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT) applies the principles of open source and open data sharing to humanitarian response and economic development.
The largest volunteer need of HOT is for OpenStreetMap contributors. To get started contributing to OpenStreetMap, the community has developed a simple-to-use beginners guide called LearnOSM ( A series of quick lessons will guide any new user through setting up an account and beginning to map. New material is always being developed and added.

You can add places to a Google map using My Maps.

Anyone can now download satellite photos direct from the source. You can create space-based timelapses of your own neighborhood in minutes or look at multi-spectral views. It’s free if you use photos shot 6+ months ago. Planet Labs, based in San Francisco, currently has the largest satellite constellation on Earth, with over 150 active imaging satellites. Most are the size of a loaf of bread and use cell phone technology for 10 ft resolution.

The latest SuperDove satellites have multi-spectral bands and 3 meter resolution. Some 26 improved Flock-4v satellites are set to launch this March. Planet Lab’s SkySat constellation has less than 1 meter resolution.

To download hundreds of free satellite photos of your neighborhood, you have to sign on. It’s simple. No credit cards or anything. You can make a sequence of photos over your neighborhood spanning months or even years.

BlackSky, out of Seattle, is aiming for a 60-satellite constellation, which will also offer 1-meter resolution and rapid satellite revisit rates.

Urthecast is based out of Vancouver BC. They use small sats with SAR (synthetic aperture radar) and optical cameras for earth observation day or night, rain or shine.

You can also purchase high-resolution images directly from the old timers like Maxtor/Digital Globe and Airbus.

The goal of all these satellite imaging services is to have predictable delivery timelines measured in minutes, not hours or days.

Less eye-popping, but just as impressive are Lacuna cubesats which link to tiny LoRa IoT sensors on the ground. Anywhere. Handy for tracking boats, bikes, vehicles or cargo. Drop one anywhere. Track yourself on dynamic maps. No cell service or regional gateway required. Lacuna’s first launch was in April 2019 with three awaiting launch in 2020.

Live Streaming
Streaming Live from Facebook is pretty easy while 360 degree video on Facebook enables immersive views. Periscope lets you live stream from Twitter. Open Broadcaster Software lets you stream 360 degree live video from a Theta S camera to YouTube. can host VR content with support for 360-degree photos and videos. On a phone browser or a webVR enabled desktop browser, it will render the content in full 3D mode inside your VR gear.

Real-time Tracking
Live GPS trackers are available for less than $100. What’s going to break this market open is Narrow Band LTE (NB-LTE), which uses only a sliver of spectrum. Available in 2018. That may lower cost and increase battery life by a factor of ten. The function of GPS tracking devices may be largely duplicated using a variety of Android and IOS apps on a phone.

Real-time geotagging with apps like MapWith.Us, developed in Vancouver USA, can track people and things in real-time. You can embed a dynamic geotagged map. It’s easy to turn a phone into a real-time GPS tracker and follow it’s location online. Just download one of many Mobile Location Trackers. The LocOf Tracker app can send locations only when an internet connection is available.

Glympse is a fast, free, and simple way to share your location in real time with the people you trust. LTE Release 13, available now, enables smaller, cheaper, tracking devices.

Live tracking apps include Glympse, Periscope, Life360 Family Locator, Find My Friends, and Google+. A live map can show your location. Some web-based services can map a variety of social networks like Twitter, Snapchat, and Facebook.

But the easiest way to share your real-time location with others is with Google Maps. You can choose who can see where you are on a continuing basis and for how long using Google Location Sharing.

  1. On your computer, open Google Maps.
  2. Click Menu and click Location sharing.
  3. Choose someone to share with.

TrackMo is developing a Bluetooth 5 tracker as is Fobo. If all NET members wore a $20 Keyring tracker, they might be easily tracked within a radius of 100-400 ft. Bluetooth 5 has 4X the range of earlier Bluetooth and may provide practical live tracking and ID information (as long as the hub antenna was high enough). No internet connection necessary. The live map is on your phone.

Other gadgets
Other helpful gadgets may include GoTenna which turns your iOS or Android device into an off-grid communications tool.

The $150/pair VHF data radio connects to tablets via Bluetooth and has a range of a mile or so using VHF frequencies. That’s more than 10 times the direct range of WiFi. No radio tower or license required. Beartooth is a similar PTP solution that uses 900 MHz and needs no cellular connection. It uses your cellphone and connects to a pocket 900 MHz transmitter ($180 for two) for voice or text over a mile or so.

A beacon like Google’s Eddystone, is discoverable by any nearby Bluetooth Smart device. Short-range Bluetooth trackers, about $25/each, can help track pets or kids. They last for years and can broadcast a URL for links to location specific information. Place local news on an SD card and create localized landing pages. Bingo. Bluetooth 5 is incorporating mesh networking so a whole neighborhood could get networked together for tracking. No cellular channel required.

TriMet and Google have activated 87 light-rail stations. The beacon automatically connects with your Bluetooth-enabled smartphone, causing an alert with the station name to pop up on your home screen. Tap the notification and your phone will give you detailed arrival information about approaching trains.

Portland Emergency Management recommends a number of Android, IOS, and Windows apps. They’re force multipliers. Many Open Source Resources for Disaster & Emergency Management are available. The White House Innovation for Disaster Response, launched in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, encourages technology that can empower survivors, first responders, and governments.

The Open Source Geospatial Foundation has lots of Portland members. Portland tech leaders include HumaniNet, N-TEN, and Public Lab, which uses inexpensive DIY techniques for environmental and social benefit.

Free and open source management platforms include Ushahidi which uses crowdsourcing and Open Street Maps to map crisis information. The OpenStreetMap community can provide support, tracing out still open roads, flooding, and earthquake damage from the latest satellite imagery.

The Sahana Software Foundation develops free and open source software for disaster response coordination. It is a web based collaboration tool that addresses the common coordination problems during a disaster from finding missing people, managing aid, managing volunteers, tracking camps, the government, NGOs and the victims.

Story Telling
Local media has laid off many journalists. You may be it.

After a major disaster, the public will rise up, self-aware and fully cognascent of what they need. These are some of the communications tools that will be utilized. They can save time and money. Disaster or not.