WorldSpace: Not only music

This satellite radio service is also involved in disaster warning, weather alerts and in connecting up remote communities

After a longish hiatius, Worldspace is reinventing its strategy with it’s satellite based radio offerings. What is not so well known are the other community oriented services that it offers in Asia and Africa. Worldspace leverages the global reach of satellite transmission to reach its services to where terrestrial infrastructure does not exist, or where it has been destroyed or rendered inoperable.

Against the next tsunami

Regular terrestrial radio, and communications infrastructure can be knocked out during national calamities, but not so satellite radio. It doesn’t have to rely on ground stations for transmission and does so via an overhead satellite. It can be deployed during national calamities, give key traffic information to commuters and weather-related information round-the-clock.

And that is one of the things that Worldspace has focused on after the last tsunami took place.

Says Managing Director Deepak Verma, “Post the tsunami, we have been working very closely with departments like the Department of Science & Technology, the Department of Disaster Management- State of Tamil Nadu and the UNDP (United Nations Development Program) to set up a national disaster warning and management network.”

Traffic and weather alerts, 24/7

Worldspace is already giving weather information services for the India Meteorological Department (IMD). In the US, satellite radio is popular for traffic reports and weather alerts. XM and Sirius radio together have dozens of dedicated channels for this. XM also gives weather data to pilots and weather spotters. XM NavTraffic integrates with a car’s GPS system so a driver can also know the traffic flow on his map. Right now this is only available on the Acura RL, other carmakers are on to it. Of course these services became popular only after XM and Sirius convinced people to use in-car receivers. Currently WorldSpace does not have car radio sets in India.

Connecting communities

First Voice International, a division of Worldspace, works with governments, communities and NGOs to deliver key information on “pressing issues” in the poorest of regions. Says President Kirk Talbott on the official website, “First Voice can deliver to people who are living and working even in the most isolated areas of Africa and Asia the information that can improve and, in many cases, save lives.” The Asia Development channel addresses social issues in Bangladesh and the African Learning Channel spreads education and awareness in the continent.

Red Cross Radio!

No, the International Red Cross hasn’t suddenly got into the radio service, but this is an after-effect of Katrina, the hurricane that devastated New Orleans in America.

XM Satellite Radio distributed 200 receivers to Red Cross workers. That helped relief workers get instant information related to relief work, shelter locations and assistance programs. These radios were also hooked up with public address system and put in information rooms that survivors could access. XM, incidentally, had an emergency alert channel even before the Red Cross channel was launched. So while the Bush administration was slow to react to the aftermath of the devastating killer storm, XM could put their channel in place because they did not have to rely on any infrastructure on the ground. Moreover when cities and towns and ravaged by disasters, information flow to and from the disaster area is very important and that is exactly what satellite radio ensures. So that’s why Worldspace and other satellite radios aren’t just about music.

(This article appeared in Living Digital magazine in October 2005)

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