Making a connection: how Vodafone Foundation’s Instant Network is a lifesaver in disaster zones

Written by Vodafone on 23 April 2019 in Sponsored Article
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When disaster strikes, it is a natural reaction to want to connect with loved ones and seek help. Vodafone presents their Instant Network, which has already provided assistance in over 20 missions around the world

Oisin Walton, Instant Network Programme Manager since 2011, introduces Instant WIFI, the latest innovation his team of volunteers can offer in hostile environments around the globe

When disaster strikes, it is a natural reaction to want to connect with loved ones and seek help. A line of communication is critical for victims and rescue workers to receive and provide vital news, transfer money, and to start the process of rebuilding.

The inexorable march of technology is making it easier to communicate in hostile environments. Just a decade ago, only satellite or radio communication was available, and now mobile networks – including Vodafone – have transformed both disaster response and prevention, improving warnings, aid coordination, and the ability to let victims speak with or message friends and family and access the internet.

Since 2011, Vodafone Foundation’s* pioneering technology, Instant Network, has provided life-saving assistance in over 20 missions around the world, empowered tens of thousands of people, and enabled almost  3 million telephone calls.

Instant WIFI, its latest innovation in a growing portfolio – which includes a portable 3G network that packs into three 32-kilogram boxes for rapid deployment on commercial flights, and Instant Charge, a durable and portable outdoor mobile charger that can charge 48 devices simultaneously – was introduced at the International Disaster Response Expo at London Olympia in late November.

It allows up to 500 people to access the internet within an 80-metre radius. For a larger deployment, extra access points extend the capacity and the area of coverage to 1,500 users across 10,000m².

“Being able to communicate via a mobile network is one of the most valuable pieces of aid today, level with food, but not quite up there with water, which is essential,” states Oisin Walton, who has been Instant Network’s Programme Manager since its inception in 2011.

He can list many stories that highlight how Instant Network’s kits have helped people in desperate situations. For instance, in February 2016 Nikki and Aaron Faulls, a newly married American couple, were on their honeymoon in Fiji when Cyclone Winston hit the island nation, killing 44. They survived by hiding in a shipping container. Being able to call their parents almost immediately was “the best wedding present”, the grateful bride said. 

Oisin recalls how one Syrian refugee in Greece used Instant Network to seek asylum, and after appealing to eight countries was accepted by Latvia.

“There have been several memorable moments over the last seven years,” he continues. “One of the most special was our first mission to Kaikor, in northern Kenya, in 2012. In that drought-prone region, where the 15,000-strong community had previously existed without running water or reliable communications, we deployed Instant Network with Huawei and Safaricom, at the request of Kenya Red Cross.

“Before our mission, the nearest mobile network signal was several hours away. The moment our network was established and people started calling was very emotional for the team.”

“Before our mission, the nearest mobile network signal was several hours away. The moment our network was established and people started calling was very emotional for the team.”

Oisin says the Instant Network team is operated in an agile way, “like a small NGO [non-governmental organisation] within in big corporate” and focused on “connecting for good, combining technology, people, and money.”

He says a people-centric approach powers Instant Network’s pioneering tools. “All our innovations are based on need, and also we look at a holistic approach, looking at the conditions in which it will be deployed,” says Barcelona-based Mr Walton.

As an example, he cites the development of Instant Charge in 2015. “UNHCR [United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] asked for help, as one million refugees were entering Greece and Europe via Turkey on boats.

Click here to read the rest of this article. Or here to download Vodafone's report 'The Future of Public Sector Connectivity'. 

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