Telco Spark has unveiled plans to establish a network of satellite-connected cell towers throughout New Zealand.
The project aims to ensure every region has access to a basic level of mobile connectivity during emergencies where fibre backhaul becomes compromised.
The company, in collaboration with satellite partner Lynk, also successfully sent its first text message via satellite from a black spot near Kawakawa Bay on a standard mobile phone.
Off the back of this success, Spark will begin trials later this year and will be expanding the service further next year.
Spark aims to house satellite-connected temporary cell towers in Northland, Auckland, Napier, Palmerston North and Canterbury, which will be available to deploy should Spark’s mobile network be impacted by major fibre damage.
“We want to leverage satellite technology to its fullest potential so that we can help our customers stay connected when they need it most," said Spark network and operations director Renee Mateparae.
"This means getting satellite connectivity accessible on mobile phones, while also looking at satellite backhaul solutions, which are becoming more widely available and help us connect cell towers back into the network when fibre is damaged."
During Cyclone Gabrielle, Spark deployed satellite backhaul to get its towers back online but encountered significant access challenges when trying to get into impacted areas.
“With our new satellite-connected temporary cell towers we can ensure the right equipment is positioned much closer to our regions and ready to be deployed more quickly," Mateparae said.
While it is starting with five temporary satellite towers, its longer-term ambition is to enable strategically placed permanent cell towers to automatically switch to satellite backhaul if required.
Spark said it was working on a range of other resilience measures to enhance network reliability during emergencies, including increasing capacity on its towers’ reserve batteries, using automation to save power during a crisis and expanding the number of generators in strategic locations.