Gaza’s Tel Aviv attack teaches a lesson in communications

The RESCUE Consortium was organized to ensure that soldiers and rescue workers don’t lose touch, even in an emergency

A RESCUE communications installation (Photo credit: Courtesy)
A RESCUE communications installation (Photo credit: Courtesy)

When Gaza terrorists fired rockets at Tel Aviv in last November’s Operation Pillar of Defense, the city was stunned into silence — but just for a moment. When it became clear that Tel Aviv had been spared, practically every resident pulled out their cellphone and began calling friends and relatives to make sure they were okay.

The results were predictable. The overload on the cellphone network first slowed, then crashed, the entire system. For many customers, it was hours before they could make calls again, as the cellphone service providers, inundated with phone calls, struggled mightily to get the networks back online.

It was a “teaching moment” for many Israelis, who learned just how vulnerable their digital lifestyles really were. But the scenario of a communications network brought down by war, natural disaster, or other calamity has been much on the mind of Israel’s top communication companies for years. That’s why nine of them — among them giants like Alvarion, Gilat, Elbit, and Wavion — in 2009 established the RESCUE (Rapidly Deployable Communication Infrastructures for Rescue Forces) Consortium, which was organized to develop a foolproof communication technology that could continue functioning, thus enabling defense and rescue workers to communicate regardless of what was going on around them.

“Communications” is a big word and it encompasses a big swath of technologies, including Wi-Fi, WiMax, 3G and LTE cellular networks, P25/Tetra, satellite communications, and more. Each one of the consortium’s members specialize in one or more of these areas, which all have their advantages and disadvantages, their more appropriate and less appropriate uses. The group decided to pool its resources to develop an integrated system of broadband solutions and routing technologies, including bi-directional mobile and quick deploy satellite terminals, distributed control, self-organized networks (SON), autonomous-routing, and self-forming capabilities. All these, consortium members said at an event introducing the system at Gilat Satellite’s Petah Tikva headquarters this week, will ensure that Israel can maintain its communications capabilities under any circumstances.

“The communication infrastructure required for the success of first responder and rescue forces are often damaged or destroyed after earthquakes, floods, fires, hurricanes, tsunamis or terrorist attacks,” said Avi Gal, director of Projects and Alliances at Gilat and chairman of the RESCUE Consortium. “The capabilities developed enable the communication between the rescue forces and the command centers, for more effective management and success of the rescue and lifesaving missions.”

The consortium is also a member of the Chief Scientist’s Office MAGNET program, which encourages Israeli tech companies to work together to create “value-added” solutions that harnesses existing technology to create new products and services. Indeed, said consortium members, there is a great deal of interest around the world for solutions of this kind including in the US, Europe and Japan. In the US, a designated association, FirstNet, was recently formed and funded by Congress to build a communication network for rescue forces. Unique frequency bands were devoted for FirstNet using LTE technology and complementary connectivity solutions such as satellite communication, with the network requirements are similar to the ones demonstrated by the RESCUE consortium. Members said that they hoped to be able to market the Israeli solution abroad.

“The technologies developed by the RESCUE consortium will enable the creation of communication networks that can be rapidly deployed in the event of disaster,” said Ilan Peled, director of the MAGNET Program. “We are excited by the innovation of the integrated solution, reflecting the strength of the technological infrastructure in Israeli industry.”

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