Cannes, France —
The GSM Association and its 400 wireless operators from 143 countries around the world today awarded Czech wireless operator EuroTel Praha the "GSM in the Community" humanitarian award at the annual GSM World Congress in Cannes, France. One of only eight awards given this year for innovation and service excellence, EuroTel was honored for coming to the aid of refugees from Kosovo being served by the Czech Army's 6th Field Military Hospital in Albania.
In less than 30 days from April to May 1999, EuroTel designed, built, and deployed a full wireless system, complete with voice, data, and telemedicine capabilities, to support the refugees, military personnel, and medical staff.
"EuroTel has illustrated its dedication to providing communications at any time and in any place," GSM Association Chairman Michael Stocks said about EuroTel's aid in Albania.
This was the first time the honor - designed to highlight the positive social benefit and impact of wireless communications - has been awarded.
Early in 1999, EuroTel and its employees raised more than CZK630,000 (about USD$18,000) for food, clothing, and other essentials to provide relief for refugees from the war in Kosovo. EuroTel executives also volunteered to secure a large truck and several employees even volunteered to drive the packages to the Albania camp.
Some time in April 1999, EuroTel CEO Ed Kingman and his team learned that the Czech Army was preparing to set up field communications for the camp and volunteered to pull the system together within one month. EuroTel's design was in service by May, providing several hundred people with access to global communications capabilities. Refugees were linked to family members, camp staff provided refugee support including family location services, and doctors and nurses conferred with colleagues to facilitate patient care at the camp [see EuroTel sidebar].
"This award is more than just confirmation of EuroTel's technology leadership, it's a testament to a 1,500-person company that lives its corporate brand image of 'More Out of Life,' said Kingman. "It's also proof that anytime, anywhere communications can break down artificial borders by offering a lifeline to those who need it most."
EuroTel also has since donated a total of CZK12 million (approximately USD$345,000) of wireless phone service to the effort.
The GSM Association Awards are designed to highlight positive social benefits of wireless communications. A winning project must show how wireless communication may have a positive effect on the lives of an individual or on a group of people.
For more information on the GSM Association Awards go to www.gsmworld.com
EuroTel Praha Ltd. is the Czech Republic's largest wireless service provider with more than 1,070,000 customers as of year-end 1999. EuroTel's high quality GSM and T!P mobile phone networks cover a territory with 99 percent of the Czech Republic's population, or more than 10 million people. The company is a pioneer in offering data and WAP- (Wireless Access Protocol) based services, and its NetCall-55 program offers customers international calling at discounts of up to 60%.
EuroTel Praha is a joint venture of CESKY TELECOM Inc. (51%) and Atlantic West B.V. (49%). Atlantic West B.V. is equally owned by Bell Atlantic (NYSE:BEL) and MediaOne International, which is a part of MediaOne Group (NYSE:UMG).
Sidebar: EuroTel Receives Humanitarian Award
Communication networks in remote parts of the world are most often ancient relics, if available at all. But in 1999, Kosovo refugees in a remote military outpost in Albania were using a self-contained cellular system, complete with cell site, microwave links, 100 GSM phones with special SIM cards, and satellite feeds, to communicate with the rest of the world.
The system was the brainchild of Czech wireless provider EuroTel Praha and its employees who had learned in April 1999 that the Czech Army was hoping to set up a communications network to serve the 6th Military Field Hospital for Kosovo refugees. EuroTel CEO Ed Kingman realized that his company could contribute to the cause by offering the Army the opportunity to tap into his company's knowledge and experience. Mr. Kingman committed to build the system - using EuroTel's own equipment and resources - and to turn service on in only one month.
In designing the system, the company identified three groups with different communications needs:
- Refugees looking to get word to family
- Camp staff needing on-the-spot communications to run operations, and
- Medical staff needing emergency links to colleagues in full-facility hospitals
Using the system's data capabilities, doctors could not only confer remotely with other physicians, they had the ability to transmit patient images and data to facilitate the process.
Here's how the system worked:
A single base station transmitter was strategically located to provide enough capacity to handle simultaneous communications for every staff member from every part of the field hospital and refugee camp. The base station, running off generator power, was linked to a K-band satellite using VSAT links. The satellite provided a link to EuroTel's Czech terrestrial wireless network where calls could then be routed to their final destination through the company's switch at Brno in the Czech Republic. Because the phones at the Albanian camp were registered through EuroTel's switch in the Czech Republic, callers could reach those phones as if dialing a local number.
Behind the scenes, the logistical problems were ominous for such a short- deadline project, including special permits, contract negotiations, war zone logistical planning, locating spare parts, developing new operating procedures, and international frequency authorization.
To ensure equipment delivery, network set-up, and maintenance, two EuroTel employees volunteered their time and services to be on-site. On May 5, less than 30 days after conceiving the project, people in the camp began making calls.
Active from May 1999 till the end of the Kosovo war, this virtual wireless system functioned without any network failures.