LightSquared, a wireless broadband and satellite network provider, will donate satellite phones and associated service to serve the communication needs of American Indian and Alaska Native people who work with and are served by the Department of Health and Human Service’s Indian Health Service (IHS)

LightSquared, formerly SkyTerra Communications, will provide satellite phones with service free-of-charge through 2020 to address the lack of reliable telecommunications connectivity that often plagues tribal communities, said Bryan Hartin, a company vice president. The company’s G2 system will be the basis for the initial deployment before year end that will cover the IHS Albuquerque regional campus, which runs four hospitals, 11 health centers and 12 field clinics located in New Mexico, Colorado and Texas, Hartin said.

“We are in discussions now to identify the deployment plan, but within the next 60 days, equipment will be in the field,” he said.

LightSquared executives responded to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski’s call for industry to assist with the Indian Telecommunications Initiative, among other tribal communications programs, by partnering with the IHS. Hartin said the Albuquerque region was chosen for the initial deployment because it represented the project’s scope, which was to provide voice communications between hospitals, health centers, clinics and mobile nurses. The need was especially apparent for field nurses who travel over rugged, mountainous conditions to provide care for existing patients as well as to potential emergency incidents, he said.

“Their communications are confined to terrestrial communications and some land-mobile radios that once outside coverage they can’t communicate,” Hartin said. “There is a real need, especially in this case for the native American tribal communities, especially to nurses who go out to very remote areas within IHS. They currently have no communication ability at all.”

To fill the communication gap, the company donated 2,000 G2 systems. It is a mobile satellite service product that offers voice, push-to-talk and a low-data-rate, Hartin said. The hardware includes an antenna used to communicate with the satellite, a small transceiver unit and a satellite phone. It also includes service through its geo-stationary satellite — which eliminates the need to install infrastructure of a coverage area, he said.

“It allows them to communicate back to the hospitals and back to the clinics,” Hartin said. “Since there is no infrastructure needed, it can be set up quickly.”

Because satellite service fees are based on usage, Hartin is unable to estimate the total donation amount. However, he said each satellite phone costs $4,800.

Related commentary: