October 31, 2012:
Military and civilian users can now set up an Internet hot spot (for wi-fi devices) anywhere on the planet, within minutes, using two devices that can be carried in your pockets. This is part of a trend that has been accelerating since the 1991 Gulf War, where suitcase size satellite dish gear allowed one to quickly establish a connection with anyone anywhere. Such equipment was popular with journalists and military personnel who had to stay in touch with editors, commanders, or suppliers back in the United States. Four years later the Internet was invented and that made instant access more useful, and important, than ever.
Over the last decade it has become increasingly easy to get Internet access anywhere. This was largely a military innovation driven by the need for troops to get connected while in combat zones. Until recently the "instant Internet" could be enabled within hours, providing local and international communications. Using a combination of satellite, cell phone, and wi-fi technology troops or relief workers can quickly have desperately needed local and international communications over a wide area. This kind of "instant Internet" kit can be delivered in a shipping container, ready to be quickly deployed. The latest devices enable you to establish a very local Internet hotspot within minutes.
Equipment for doing this has been getting more and more portable and inexpensive year by year since 1991. The most recent development is a satellite phone and a separate mini-router device that allows you to quickly establish a wi-fi hotspot (within 30 meters of the “Hotspot” router). Currently, Thuraya sells a phone (for about $800) and a router (for $300) that makes this happen. Data rates are not cheap, costing $3-$4 per megabyte. Thuraya satellites only cover Eurasia and most of Africa. The Hotspot device only provides 60 kbps, so smartphones, iPads, and laptops connecting via this hotspot have to stick to email, texting, and small data file transfers. But when you are faced with having that or no Internet connection at all, reverting to 1980s Internet speeds is not so bad. This Thuraya setup is particularly popular with special operations troops and relief organizations when they first arrive at a disaster situation.
The U.S. military is using a similar approach to provide troops with multiple battlefield hot spots, which can connect with each other and automatically create and sustain a larger “mesh” network.