From Ukraine to post-quake Turkey: Telecom provider connects the unconnected

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From providing crucial communications services to war-torn Ukraine to connecting the unconnected in Southern and Eastern Asia and Africa, UAE-based IEC Telecom is bridging the digital divide in underdeveloped areas and war zones through satellite technology.

The telecom service provider works with NGOs and humanitarian organizations to provide access to communication, becoming one of the world’s key players in using tech for the good of humanity.

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The company’s CCO, Nabil Ben Soussia, shared with Al Arabiya English how IEC Telecom supported aid operations to crisis-hit areas globally over the years.

Ukraine war

In the wake of the Russian invasion in Ukraine, IEC Telecom played a crucial role in supporting seafarers and their families.

The company provided support to victims of the war in Ukraine by reducing the cost of calls and doubling maritime data services at the start of the conflict in February 2022.

“At the start of the war in late February 2022, approximately 94 vessels containing 2,000 seafarers worldwide were stranded in Ukrainian ports. In addition, over 76,000 Ukrainian seafarers employed around the globe increasingly needed regular communication with loved ones back home,” Ben Soussia said.

“At the time… IEC Telecom significantly reduced the cost of calls to Ukraine. In addition, the service operator offered ship operators a 20 percent discount on scratch cards and doubled its maritime data services for the same rate.”

Post-quake Turkey

The company also equipped mobile units for operational continuity on the move. IEC Telecom, which started operations in Paris in 1995, provided airtime packages to support Turkish operations in disaster recovery.

It has been involved in over 350 operations in the humanitarian sector globally, offering invaluable support to first responders in natural disasters, developing network infrastructure for long-term deployments, facilitating international corps and election supervision, and managing field requirements through connectivity services. It also provides affordable satellite communication solutions that enable data exchange between camp units and headquarters.

The Xpand Portfolio is one of the solutions that IEC Telecom offers to address communication challenges faced by humanitarian teams and local communities in crisis areas. It is powered by Starlink, a satellite internet system operated by the Elon Musk-backed SpaceX, to connect to the internet at a speed of up to 350Mbps, making it as fast as using the internet on a regular phone network.

The Xpand Portfolio is supported by Thuraya WE, a device made by satellite communications provider Thuraya, which is a part of Yahsat - a public company offering satellite services, listed on Abu Dhabi Securities Exchange and a subsidiary of the Mubadala Investment Company.

The device aids important operations in the event of a disconnection on the main line. Thuraya’s backup satellite connection keeps emergency responders connected and working.

IEC Telecom also has a system called OneGate, which can be monitored, maintained and up-scaled remotely.

“Not only will it help humanitarian teams to increase operational efficiency, as any communication challenge can be addressed in real-time, but also help NGOs to save costs on logistics of maintenance teams to the remote areas of humanitarian action,” Ben Soussia said.

The ‘unconnected’ 2.85 billion

Stock image of a woman working remotely. (Supplied: IEC Telecom)
Stock image of a woman working remotely. (Supplied: IEC Telecom)

Currently, over five billion people have access to the internet worldwide, which accounts for around 64 percent of the global population. This leaves around 2.85 billion people without access.

“The ‘unconnected’ 2.85 billion are based predominantly in Southern and Eastern Asia, and Africa, regions heavily dependent on humanitarian support,” Ben Soussia explained.

“Today, humanitarian operations are highly digitalized, hence heavily dependent on data access.”

In the past, inadequate infrastructure posed a major challenge to integrating technology into humanitarian missions in remote locations. But today, many modern applications require fast and responsive connectivity that is both high throughput and low latency.

High throughput refers to the ability of a system to process and transfer large amounts of data quickly. In the context of humanitarian missions, this could mean transferring medical records or sending real-time updates on the location and needs of people in crisis.

Low latency, on the other hand, refers to the speed at which a system can respond to a request or input. In the context of humanitarian missions, this could mean enabling doctors to remotely diagnose and treat patients in real-time, or allowing aid workers to coordinate their efforts quickly and efficiently.

Ben Soussia said that, in the past, connectivity could be achieved in these areas with the help of Very Small Aperture Terminal (VSAT) systems, a type of satellite communication technology used for data transmission.

“This is certainly an efficient and dependable solution, but quite bulky and costly at the same time. As such, the use of VSAT was mainly reserved for long-term deployments, leaving fast responders behind the digital curve,” he said.

Adding high-speed mobile connectivity to humanitarian operations enhances their reach and capability by expanding the areas they can serve, enabling them to provide a wider range of services.

To support these efforts, IEC Telecom provides a suite of specialized applications for humanitarian use, including drone surveillance, telemedicine, and remote maintenance.

All data shared via these apps is automatically end-to-end encrypted to safeguard sensitive and classified information exchanged between humanitarian organizations.

“The world is transitioning to Web 3.0. Wide adoption of the metaverse is a matter of time, yet it is certainly unavoidable. Virtual reality will expand the possibilities of humanitarian camps, enabling remote teams to engage with HQ experts and develop solutions required for onsite application,” he added.

“This will include virtual learning, future modelling - particularly useful for the roll-out of new infrastructure projects - and enhanced quality of day-to-day collaboration. In addition, virtual reality will significantly improve the quality of welfare for remote workers, paving the way to new levels of socialization.”

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