Satellite Phones: Making Terror More Tech-Savvy

The recent Mumbai attacks have left the entire world stunned. Science and technology are moving at a blue streak pace. Moreover, the new technologies are so user friendly that one need not be a scholar or learned in order to use them. The terrorists who struck Mumbai, in November 2008 represent a new breed of tech-savvy militants. Terrorists have constantly been improving their skills in the fields of technology and consequently have been able to surpass the skilled law-enforcement officials all over the world. Terrorist have been safely using Internet and Satellite phones in order to implement their “mission of terror”. For instance, Google earth and Google maps were used for spotting the geographical location and Satellite phones acted as a catalyst in the 2008 Mumbai attacks.

Science and technology has travelled a long way since the early days of ‘Sputnik’. Satellite systems are not only providing data communication but also voice communication .A satellite telephone or a satphone is a type of a mobile that unlike conventional cell phones provides service virtually anywhere. They do not use land based cell towers to communicate but they communicate via satellites. Fast and reliable data service, true global coverage, fast signal acquisition and excellent sound quality are the hallmarks of a satellite telephone.

Some satellite phones use the network of satellite in geosynchronous orbit. A geosynchronous is an orbit around Earth whose orbital period is equivalent to Earth’s rotation period. Geosynchronous satellite systems allow the network to attain global coverage with only 3 or 4 satellites. However, the satellites used for this system are colossal (approximately 5000 Kg). Therefore, it is a Herculean task to build and launch such satellites. The other technology that is being used in a satphone is LEO (low earth orbit) satellite technology. This technology necessitates the use of far more satellites to attain global coverage. These satellites are smaller and hence reducing the launch cost. Globalstar and Irindium are both examples of such a satellite network. A satellite phone transmits a signal via an antenna to an orbiting satellite in a network of satellite and then back to the ground station. However, the signal path between a satellite phone and the satellite must not be obstructed. Bad weather can prove to be a great barricade. Outdoor reception is preferred over indoor reception. Sometimes in order to solve the poor reception problem one might need to install an external antenna.

The cost of a satellite phone includes the cost of the phone and the cost of the subscription. Satellite phones range in price from about $700(INR 33,901) to $1300(INR 62,959), depending on the brand. Basic subscriptions generally cost about $50 per month (INR 2,421). The cost of call varies widely depending on the type of the call. Calling a satellite phone from a land line or cell phone is extremely expensive although it costs negligible to the owner.

Satellite phone has proven to be beneficial to an array of occupations. It has demonstrated its utility in the sectors of construction, mining, government, leisure and maritime. Satphones provide incredible assistance in rescue and disaster relief organizations where it’s likely that land based communication have been disrupted by the disaster. Satellite telephones are undoubtedly the most reliable way of communication as it can be put to use at any part of the globe.

Satellite phones have ameliorated numerous occupations but we cannot deny its use by terrorists too. Advances in mobile science and technologies have given tactical advantage to terrorists that are proving to be difficult to corral. After all, these days’ terrorism and technology go hand in hand!! In 2008 Mumbai attacks, satellite phones have played a vital role in killing thousands of people in cold blood. Alas, a great loss indeed!!A loss which can never ever fade from the minds of people. Now a question must be arising in your mind that whether satellite phones can be tracked or not?? According to the experts, satellite phones can be tracked in India only if they have used Indian gateway for the communications. Charges of portal being very high in India, connection via Singapore, Japan or Hongkong is preferred and consequently making tracking of a satellite telephone almost impossible. Isn’t the questions that now can be put forth is: how to manage the situation of tech-savvy terror and prevent the technological advancements from being the weapons in the hands of agents of terrorism???

I guess the only solution to this problem is that it should become mandatory for people to present their relevant authentic identity documents (ID). Solution does not lie in making the laws but rather in implementing them strictly throughout the globe. “Laws are not meant to be broken”. The retail shop sales staff should scan individual’s id through the Terminal Device (TD). Terminal Device is a component that can substitute hand function. The TD will electronically save the relevant data of the Identity Documents. But despite these measures, there are vendors who cell pre-paid card with the particulars of a person whom the buyer does not even know.

What I firmly believe is that each one of us has potential to bring about a great revolution irrespective of our age and position. So today let’s promise ourselves to serve our nation in every possible way but within the boundaries. Authorities should take some strict action to close down this disastrous loophole and we, the common people can help our country by sharing our knowledge especially with the sim card vendors. We can motivate them to cease the sale of pre-paid Sims without authentic data. We can stop terror becoming tech-savvy because using technology for wrong purpose is absolutely illegal and anything illegal cannot be done until be allow them to happen. A small mistake on any individual’s part can help in making the terrorist attacks possible. Be it law agencies, be it sim card sellers or be it us!

Anuradha Agarwal

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