In Antarctica adequate communications can be a matter of life and death. Communication systems are therefore a key part of any research station. All stations (and ships) have permanent satellite links to the outside world providing Internet, data transfer, email and a sophisticated telephone network.
To keep in contact with the Antarctic from Cambridge we use a satellite system with Voice over IP (VoIP) technology. For contact between the bases and contact between a base and field parties VHF and Single Side Band (SSB) radios can also be used.
The list of equipment needed to ensure a reliable communication link is extensive. Reliable communication systems are essential to ensure the safety of British Antarctic Survey personnel and to ensure that the science carried out is first rate.
The base Communication Manager will have access to the following systems.
- High Frequency (HF) Radios – base stations
- HF Field Radios
- VHF Radio (marine band – FM) – base station and handheld mobile units
- VHF Radio (aeronautical band – AM) – base station and handheld mobile units
- Very Small Aperture Terminal (VSAT) satellite system (main communication system)
- Iridium satellite system – base station and handheld mobile units
- VoIP Telephone System
These allow field parties to easily keep in contact with the base or other field parties. The field parties take out radio sets, batteries and an antenna and once set up they can keep the base updated as to their progress and safety. HF radios can reach relatively long distances, but require a little bit of training to set up and use.
VHF radios are used where lightweight and short-range communication is needed. This is typically around the base and between work parties. They are also used when communicating with a nearby ship. They can be small handheld devices that are convenient to carry and easy to use.
VSAT Satellite System
The VSAT system is a satellite system that allows voice and data to links to be set up between Cambridge and Antarctica, or even world wide. The VSAT system enables the BAS bases to have Internet access and therefore base personnel can send and receive emails. The satellite antenna are relatively small, they are typically less than 4m, and are our main link between Cambridge, the ships and the bases.
Iridium Satellite System
This satellite system allows the use of small handheld devices that can easily be carried in a pocket. They are primarily used for voice, data can be sent with them but at very low speeds. This system is used as a back up and allows easy and convenient communication for a field party to contact their base or to speak to Cambridge.
Voice over IP Telephone (VoIP) System
A telephone system that allows voice calls to be made over the Internet. Base personnel can communicate with family and friends more easily and cheaply. The phones look similar to an ordinary phone and are used in the same way.