Kiwi engineers provide network support to typhoon hit Philippines

Thousands of people in the Philippines hit by Typhoon Pablo can now contact relatives, and aid agencies can carry out life-saving emergency work following the deployment of the Vodafone Foundation’s Instant Network.

Communications lines were cut in the region when Typhoon Pablo hit the Mindanao province on 4 December, flattening buildings and damaging cell sites and telecoms transmission facilities.

Vodafone New Zealand engineers Cliff Robertson and Jason Rogers, have been on the ground in Baganga facilitating the deployment of the Instant Network as part of the Vodafone Foundation’s Mobile for Good programme.

"On the drive to Baganga we encountered total devastation - the scale of the destruction is difficult to comprehend. Most of the local houses are destroyed and only a few concrete structures remain and even some of those are severely damaged. The Filippino spirit is impressive. Even the people who have seemingly lost so much still manage to smile," says Cliff Robertson.

"Communications are critical to the coordination of government and NGO relief efforts and we’ve collaborated with the local mobile operator Smart to reconnect the community of Baganga to the rest of the country. Within seconds of the Instant Network coming online, the compound where the NGOs and government agencies are located lit up with phone calls and TXT messages. It never felt so good to be a telecommunications engineer."

Following the deployment of the Instant Network Cliff and Jason trained the local Smart engineers to maintain the Instant Network, which is providing the only communication channel for emergency services, local Government and residents.

The Vodafone Foundation's Instant Network is a portable mobile phone network which packs into three suitcases, weighs less than 100kg and can be taken on commercial flights. Once on location, a network can be established in 40 minutes.

The ‘ultra-portable’ mobile network is being used in Baganga, where relief agencies have set up an operations base. It is connected via satellite to wireless services provider Smart Communications’ network. Once operational, the portable communications network can provide coverage of three to five kilometres, and the GSM base station can transmit and receive thousands of text messages and dozens of calls simultaneously.

This is the first time the technology has been used in an emergency disaster situation.

Andrew Dunnett, Director of the Vodafone Foundation, says: "The Instant Network is part of our Mobile for Good programme, where the Foundation is combining funding with mobile technology as an enabler. Providing mobile communications in a disaster situation enables aid agencies to work faster and more effectively, helps reunite families and saves lives."

Developed by Vodafone using Huawei equipment, the network is being deployed in partnership with emergency communications specialist Télécoms Sans Frontières, WIT Global and Smart Communications. Together these organisations have set up the satellite link, which connects the Vodafone Instant Network to the Smart core network.

In addition, Smart has supplied 30 mobile phones for the use of local residents, relief agencies and local government.

Sebastien Latouille, ICT manager and head of mission Philippines, Télécoms Sans Frontières (TSF), said: "TSF has been working in the affected area of Davao Oriental, where communications have not been available for the last seven days. The deployment of the Vodafone Instant Network will provide connectivity back in the area, greatly enhancing the relief work efficiency and enabling the displaced families to get in touch with their loved ones. TSF is proud to be a part of this innovative and fruitful partnership with the Vodafone Foundation and Smart Communications."

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