One of the most frightening aspects of a natural disaster can be the toll it takes on communication infrastructure. The inability of survivors to contact friends or family, call for help, or give details about the situation can make an already stressful and traumatic situation even worse. Vodafone’s philanthropic division, the Vodafone Foundation, has been working to provide portable cellular phone networking equipment to the victims of disasters since 2011, and now the company has unveiled a portable hub small enough to fit inside an ordinary backpack.
The new Instant Network Mini weighs only 24 pounds, so it can easily be transported by plane or even carried on foot. It’s equipped with a 2G GSM connection which can handle thousands of text messages and five phone calls at a time from people within a 328-foot radius of the device. The device contains a GSM base transceiver that allows it to connect to a host network via satellite.
In the past, Vodafone has used a 220 pound “portable” version of its equipment in relief operations — most notably during Typhoon Haiyan, when the network processed 1.4 million texts and 443,288 calls over the course of a month The larger version has a wider operating radius of 3 miles, but it requires much more set-up to deploy. Hopefully, the quicker, easier setup of the mini network will allow disaster relief crew to help even more people in the future.