The Impact of Low Earth Orbit (LEO) Satellites on Public Safety Communications

The Impact of Low Earth Orbit (LEO) Satellites on Public Safety Communications

When catastrophe strikes, every tick of the clock counts. Whether itā€™s firefighters entering forest fire territory, search and rescue teams navigating rugged backcountry, or emergency responders picking up the pieces after a hurricane makes landfallā€”each operation teeters on the slack line of communication. It’s in these crucial moments that even a fraction of a second can tip the balance between triumph and disaster.

Public safety communications is the linchpin in emergency management and response. It enables first responders, emergency command centers, and other relevant parties to communicate effectively and in real-time.Ā 

But what happens when traditional communication networks fail or buckle under the immense strain, especially in remote or rural areas that lack the infrastructure to shoulder bandwidth demands? This is where low Earth orbit (LEO) satellite technologies are revolutionizing public safety communications.

The Issues with Legacy Public Safety Communication SystemsĀ 

Traditionally, the bedrock of most public safety communication systems has been built on two types of technologies: terrestrial-based systems and geostationary satellite systems.

Terrestrial-Based Systems

Terrestrial-based technologies are commonly found in every city. Think cellular networks and land mobile radio systems (LMRS). While ubiquitous, these technologies are limited by both geography and infrastructure.Ā 

For instance, in dense population areas there may be too many people on the same network or channel. Network congestion can cause the communication systems to crash or drop sporadically. Conversely, in remote terrain, it may be impossible to build the necessary infrastructure to support such technologies.Ā 

Either case could lead to a degradation of signal quality or dead zones. And, in instances of natural disaster, the delicate ground-based infrastructure is often the first to go offline.Ā Ā 

Geo SatellitesĀ 

Traditional satellite systems operate in geostationary orbits, approximately 22,236 miles above the earthā€™s equator. This positioning allows the satellite to orbit the earth at a rate that mirrors the earthā€™s rotation, so that they remain fixed above the same position to provide consistent coverage.Ā Ā 

But these communication systems also have their downsides. The great distances can result in high latency and limited bandwidth. And, even if those issues arenā€™t present, the fixed positioning of the satellites still limits coverage.Ā 

Understanding Low Earth Orbit (LEO) SatellitesĀ 

In light of the limitations of traditional public safety communication systems, forward-thinking companies like Starlink and OneWeb are charting a new path through the cosmos. Their answer to the inherent shortcomings of legacy systems is a groundbreaking form of satellite system known as low Earth orbit (LEO) satellites, which promises to deliver high-speed, low-latency connectivity to all.

Low earth orbit refers to a satellite’s path that operates relatively close to Earth. Unlike their geostationary counterparts, LEO satellites circle the planet at much lower altitudesā€”between 100 to 1,000 miles. This proximity to Earth enables them to provide lower latency communication.

And, to make them even more reliable, Starlink and OneWeb have begun building large groups of satellite ā€œconstellations,ā€ which work together to ensure that thereā€™s coverage anywhere, anytime.Ā Ā 

The Role of LEO Satellites in Public Safety CommunicationsĀ 

Naturally, LEO satellites are poised to completely overhaul the way public safety communications operate. Just consider some of the ways LEO could improve emergency responses:Ā 

  • Enhancing coverage and connectivity in remote and disaster-stricken areas ā€“ Unlike terrestrial technologies that falter in challenging terrains or when a disaster sends systems offline, LEO satellites provide unwavering communication coverage.
  • Enabling real-time data transfer and situational awareness ā€“ The low latency, high bandwidth characteristic of LEO satellites supports real-time data exchange, which is necessary for coordinating an efficient emergency response while maintaining personnel accountability.Ā 
  • Supporting mission-critical applications and emergency response ā€“ LEO satellites offer robust, reliable connectivity and interoperability essential for supporting mission-critical applications that modern emergency responders rely on to communicate and manage their response effort.Ā 
  • Improving communication resilience and redundancy ā€“ Thanks to satellite constellations, LEO systems provide much greater redundancy, thus enhancing the resilience of public safety communications while making them less susceptible to single-point failures.

Benefits of LEO Satellites for Public Safety AgenciesĀ 

What are the arguments in favor of public safety agencies switching from GEO reliance to LEO mobile connectivity? There are four, in particular, that stand out:Ā 

  • Rapid deployment and scalability of communications infrastructure ā€“ When it comes to LEO satellites, speed is the name of the game. For instance, first responders in Washington state reported that setting up a traditional satellite connection in remote areas could take up to an hour. In contrast, Starlinkā€”a LEO satellite providerā€”can be set up and operational within 5-10 minutes. This ability to rapidly deploy and scale up communications infrastructure could prove to be a game-changer during emergencies.
  • Increased reliability and reduced downtime during emergencies ā€“ As noted above, LEO satellites rely on a cluster of satellites to ensure network redundancy. This design improves reliability and reduces downtime during emergencies, allowing the systems to remain operational even if a single satellite fails.Ā Ā 
  • Cost-effective solutions for resource-constrained agencies ā€“ Despite the additional convenience, connectivity, and bandwidth offered by GEO satellite systems, the pricing for service is comparable. Additionally, the ground equipment required for LEO systems is often smaller and more portable, reducing costs further and making it a more economical choice.
  • Seamless integration with existing communication systems ā€“ LEO satellites were designed with an eye toward interoperability. They can seamlessly communicate with practically any system, allowing for a smoother adoption as agencies retire legacy systems in favor of new ones.Ā 

First Responder Net: The Solution for Public Safety Connectivity

Public safety is entering a new era of technology. The advent of low earth orbit satellite systems has opened up previously unthinkable possibilities for public safety agencies and responders. Thanks to LEO satellites, itā€™s now possible to maintain high-speed, low-latency, reliable communication links practically anywhere, regardless of the situation on the ground.Ā 

Thinking about embracing the future of public safety communications?Ā 

At IP Access International, we offer First Responder Netā€”a cellular and satellite service that leverages all existing cellular and satellite networks and is supported by a 24/7/365 Network Operations Center (NOC).Ā Ā 

Want to learn more about First Responder Net? Contact us today.Ā