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Mission critical communications

By Brenda Bouw | April 5, 2013
Mission critical communications
Amiee Chan

It was the middle of the night in early May 2012, when Norsat International Inc. received a call from the U.S. military requesting satellite communication services in Afghanistan. Within minutes, Norsat’s response team was on it. They didn’t know what type of broadcast they were prepping, only that their cutting-edge video streaming technologies and Ku-band portable satellite terminals needed to be up and running, fast.

A few hours later, as the clock counted down from five seconds and the broadcast feed went live, the team was in awe to see it was President Barrack Obama making a surprise visit and address to U.S. service members in Bagram. “It was a top-secret mission and when Obama came on we knew when the rest of the world knew,” recalls Norsat president and CEO Dr. Amiee Chan. “It was exciting for us for that reason, but also because we knew that – for something as important as Obama’s trip to Afghanistan – our communication equipment was being used. That just goes to show you how reliable our services are.”

Indeed, Norsat’s communication solutions have been used for a number of critical missions around the world. For example, in 2010, the company’s satellite terminals were deployed to provide emergency communication and broadcast services following the earthquake in Haiti, as well as the mine collapse in Chile. The Richmond-based company also provides ongoing remote network connectivity solutions, including broadband Internet services to 17 remote First Nations communities in British Columbia. Norsat’s technology plays a critical role in connecting people in far-flung locations to the rest of the world.

It’s a responsibility Chan and her employees take very seriously.

“For people in the middle of nowhere, or in a disaster situation like an earthquake where communication is cut-off, we are often their tether to the rest of the world. We understand that our technology provides that one chance to make a difference and, in many cases, to save lives,” Chan says. “At Norsat, our priority is always to ensure high-quality and excellent performance so our customers can focus on their mission.”

Since it was founded more than 35 years ago, Norsat’s goal has been to develop leading satellite technologies for the consumer and commercial markets. Norsat was founded in the Yukon in 1977 by its first president Rod Wheeler, who had an innovative idea to build the first affordable consumer satellite dish using just chicken wire and foil. That dish was the first prototype for Norsat, and it helped launch the company into the satellite market. Today, Norsat produces a variety of communication solutions including microwave products, digital products for terrestrial and wireless applications, and open standard networks that provide customers with reliable, high-speed data transmission. In 2011, Norsat further expanded its product portfolio to include antennas and RF conditioning products through its acquisition of Sinclair Technologies Inc.

Chan says Norsat’s story is one of constant reinvention and collaboration for both the company, and its clients. “Through our communications technology we change the way people work and collaborate with each other,” she says. An example is in B.C.’s remotely located First Nations communities, where Norsat brings satellite connectivity that provides not just emergency services, but also educational services, such as continuing education and other programs via the Internet. The antenna and RF conditioning products, which are designed to work in both extreme weather conditions and urban environments, are currently used throughout the Toronto Transit Commission system.

Expertise in communications in harsh and remote environments has also positioned Norsat to become a growing player in the burgeoning machine-to-machine, or “M2M” market. This technology allows wireless and wired systems to communicate and is expected to forever change the communication landscape. Norsat’s first foray into this market is in the oil and gas sector, providing wireless monitoring of wells and pipelines.

Chan is hoping to expand Norsat’s M2M capacity into other areas such as the transportation, utilities and mining sectors, where the technology can provide remote monitoring and control capabilities to enhance operational efficiencies, and improve safety by reducing reliance on the technical field deployments often needed to monitor sites.

“When we talk about communication, most people think about people-to-people, but the future is really machine-to-machine,” says Chan. “We believe the M2M market is where the growth in communication will come from, and our understanding of M2M technologies enables us to offer end-to-end solutions on a global basis, putting us in a strong position in this market.” Norsat is on the hunt for acquisitions that will help fill out its communication services, while at the same time continuing to champion its innovative culture. Chan says the goal is to constantly provide customers with the latest and greatest communication tools. “This is where we see our value - not being tied one technology, but providing the best technology to meet the needs of our customers,” Chan says.

“There is a common theme among our business units, and that is our ability to customize and give our customers exactly what they need under the most extreme conditions. This gives us an advantage over our other, larger competitors because quite often they aren’t as nimble to or quick to respond. In our business, responsiveness is key.”

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