The State Department is focused on building out satellite communications (SATCOM) that would allow it to have affordable and reliable communications via phones and laptops, particularly during emergencies, in U.S. embassies around the world, CIO Kelly Fletcher said Thursday.
The State Department’s 191 embassies around the world often find themselves in the crossfire of a crisis within their host nations. Those emergencies come with many high-risk moving pieces that require constant connectivity to communicate with officials back in the U.S., and the embassies can’t always rely on the local networks of the regions they’re based in, Fletcher said during FedScoop’s FedTalks on Thursday.
“So my first experience with an emergency was Sudan. I was in D.C., but we had an IT presence in Sudan. And every day I’d wake up and make sure they could still communicate: is your phone working, are the cell towers out, is the internet working in places where the government will turn off the internet?” said Fletcher.
“But I think in the future what I’m really excited about is affordable, resilient, reliable SATCOM that I can use in emergencies,” she said.
SATCOM also has advantages for embassies in less developed parts of the world that lack connectivity and network infrastructure for State Department communications, Fletcher said.
“But also SATCOM that maybe for smaller embassies can be used as part of daily business. I think it’s going to fundamentally change how we engage with each other and how we think about getting data where it needs to go,” she added.
Satellite communications have seen an explosion of activity in the past year during the Ukraine war, notably with services like Elon Musk’s Starlink platform.
Fletcher highlighted an example of “how cool it is that we can use SATCOM even on some iPhones today” using the SOS button, but she also pointed out the challenge that most government phones are severely outdated and would need to be upgraded before having SATCOM capabilities built in.