It was C-COM Satellite Systems (CVE:CMI) to the rescue when, with a wildfire nipping at their heels and communications crucial, broadcasters and first responders alike were stumped – neither the firefighters' vehicles nor the bulky broadcast vans could negotiate the steep and winding trails needed to access the remote area in which the Chariot Fire in California was burning.
Forest fires ripped through California at the rate of one per day this last summer – 78 such fires have been recorded since May 1 – setting the scene for which first responders are routinely sent into areas of limited communication coverage as they risk their lives to save others.
One such conflagration ignited on June 6th, 2013 in San Diego County, burned without containment for 9 days, blackening over 7,000 acres and destroying 149 structures before ultimately being brought under control.
During what has been since dubbed the ‘Chariot Fire’, in which 146 personnel expended heroic efforts to extinguish the blaze with the loss of not a single life, first responders were asked – as is so often the case -- to venture into high-danger areas of limited communication coverage, thus risking their lives to save others.
In efforts to report on the progress of the firefighters’ efforts at containment and otherwise update authorities on the incident, broadcasters attempted to gain access to an extremely difficult to reach area, one where entry was difficult -- accessible only via narrow and steep roads – and traditional methods of communications non-existent.
The brush was impenetrable for the vehicles used by the firefighters themselves while broadcast trucks with traditional antennas were far too unwieldy to drive the trails. Additionally, cell-bonded solutions, though light-weight and compact, failed on the scene too, due to congested and limited cell coverage.
Ultimately only one truck made it through and only one technology enabled complete communications - ViaSat's Newsgathering vehicle, equipped with a 75cm iNetVu Ka-band antenna from C-COM Satellite Systems and operating over the Exede Enterprise service, provided the full communications infrastructure required by not only the broadcasters, but the first responders on the scene, as well.
The antenna used is touted as a one-button solution, that is, once the user has driven to their location of choice, the push of a single button allows for connection to satellite, enabling voice, video and data transfer in a matter of minutes. The technology delivers downstream rates up to 15 Mbps and upstream rates up to 5 Mbps, enough to allow HD video.
In a statement released describing the circumstances of the vehicle and antenna’s deployment, a company spokesperson said: “High-speed, compact satellite technology is the solution for both broadcasters and first responders when entering remote areas with limited connectivity, and also when the barrier to entry might be difficult.
"This is a low cost solution which can help to save lives by enabling high bandwidth communications anywhere, anytime."
C-COM Satellite Systems, the company responsible for the antenna technology, was trading as high as $1.73 per share Monday, near the top of its 52-week range.