Reaching remote markets around the globe
By Cheryl Long
Modern-day technology allows us to check email at the cottage, make a phone call from the side of a country road or send a last-minute text just before the plane heads down the runway. Maybe that’s why it’s hard to imagine being in a location where cellular service is non-existent.
But that’s exactly the market targeted by the founders of Star Solutions when the company was launched in 1994 in Richmond, British Columbia. Overlooked by most of the industry’s major vendors, these primarily rural areas were brimming with opportunity. Today, the company has made a name for itself by delivering effective mobile network solutions in remote locations worldwide, from small towns in northern Canada and the United States to underground mines and prisons.
“We don’t target urban areas,” said Myles Lu, the company’s Vice President of Marketing and Business Development. “We’re not deployed in Toronto or Vancouver or Montreal.” They’re more likely to be found in hard-to-reach locations like Alaska or Nunavut, or in a country like Grenada where the prohibitive cost of electricity requires energy-efficient technology.
Star Solutions focuses its efforts on providing wireless infrastructure technologies to mobile carriers, telecommunications businesses and other companies located in areas without access to traditional cellular networks. The company has become a pioneer in their industry, delivering voice and broadband data services in some of the most unlikely locations. Think cruise ships or uninhabited wilderness or the site of a natural disaster; these are the places where access to reliable wireless communications is essential.
Building everything but the phone
The company provides two of the three key parts needed to deliver cellular service — the core and the base station infrastructure. The only piece the company doesn’t build is the phone itself, Lu pointed out. “We’re providing the cellular network equipment that wirelessly communicates directly with all the phones.” They’ll install and deploy the equipment for customers, and then provide technical service and support after the installation is complete.
“We get to work with a lot of unique customers so it allows us to shine as an innovator,” Lu said. “I think that’s why we’ve been able to be successful.”
Star Solutions has several innovative projects underway. One of their leading advancements is the deployable IMPAC system, which is ideal for situations that require portability and rapid deployment. The entire network can fit into a backpack, Lu said, and is valuable during incident response for police activities, emergencies such as wildfires, tracking a lost person in a remote area or disaster relief. “We have deployed a few units for testing purposes in Canada,” Lu said. The patent-pending technology weighs about 13 kilograms and allows the user to have access to emergency communications in any situation.
“This year we’re actively promoting it so we expect adoption and growth in terms of sales and opportunity would be next year,” Lu said. “It’s something we’re really excited about and working on.”
Communications in a prison environment
Another unique environment where Star Solutions is providing communications solutions is the correctional facility setting. In some prisons, the smuggling of cell phones is an issue but they’ve found a way around it by setting up a controlled cellular environment. Service would only be available on authorized phones and “everyone else is denied”.
Earlier this year, Star Solutions launched a new concept for search and rescue that combines the latest in cellular and drone technology. Their groundbreaking Cellular network On Drone (COD) helps first responders locate and communicate with people who are lost or in distress by programming the COD to fly to a specific area and initiating a search. The COD is able to detect phones and their locations, and then place calls or send text messages to the phones, determining if help is needed. The technology helps to reduce the time, resources and costs associated with search and rescue missions.
Keeping up with the generational changes in technology is always a challenge, and the pace has been increasing as telecommunications have shifted from analog to digital to 3G and now 4G service. There’s also a need to make equipment smaller and more compact, similar to the IMPAC, and to make it understandable to a growing number of customers who may not be as technically savvy but are just as motivated to optimize their wireless communications.
Demand for private networks growing
A growing trend among some industries is the demand for a private cellular network. Lu said the company has seen this happening in sectors like large-scale mining where there’s a need to connect and automate large numbers of people and processes in the most secure and cost-efficient way. “We see that as an area of opportunity for us,” he explained. “In general everyone takes (cellular service) for granted. They need it; they want it to be available. It is also the most cost-effective, wide-area wireless technology. We can help people address these unique environments…”
That’s exactly what the company set out to do when they signed an agreement last spring with telecommunications company Batelco Group to build and implement mobile networks in the south Atlantic. The project will provide service to the residents of St. Helena and Ascension Island, two small land masses located in the Atlantic Ocean midway between the coasts of Brazil and central Africa.
“We’re really excited about the technology that we have and also where cellular continues to grow and expand,” Lu said. “We see opportunities for us and it’s really up to us to go out and get it.”
More information about Star Solutions can be found at www.starsolutions.com.