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A growing number of Japanese companies are adopting a satellite-based emergency backup communications system so they can continue some of their key operations in the event of a major earthquake or other terrestrial disruption.

The move gained momentum after JSAT Corp., the nation’s largest communications satellite operator, began offering a bargain-rate fixed-fee service called SAO — short for Shared but Always On — last fall.

Kobe Steel Ltd., a major steelmaker whose mills took a hammering in 1995 from the Great Hanshin Earthquake, became in April one of the first companies to adopt SAO, according to JSAT.

The steelmaker suffered about 100 billion yen of damage from the quake.

Kobe Steel linked its Tokyo branch office and its headquarters in Kobe with SAO two-way communications networks that do not depend on any terrestrial communications circuits.

Takahiro Hayashi, section chief of the information technology promotion group at the steelmaker’s business planning division, said, “While conventional satellite-based backup services levy high fees, SAO enables us to take advantage of such a service for less than 100,000 yen a month.”

SAO enables always-on, round-the-clock connections between the branches of a client at a transmission speed of 64 kilobits per second. Data as well as voice messages can be exchanged.

Since clients do not use the service except in times of natural disasters or during training, SAO can offer a bargain-rate fee system, under which a minimum monthly telecom fee of 29,500 yen per modem is charged for a large-lot user using more than 50 modems.

The modem for reception and transmission of data requires installing a compact dish antenna with a 75-cm diameter.

It cost Kobe Steel less than 2 million yen to install the dish antennas and modems, Hayashi said.

Kobe Steel used to utilize a backup communications service of a major computer company, paying a few hundred million yen a year.

The 1995 quake taught the firm the key lesson of putting priority on paying down accounts payable and any other obligations to outside creditors, paying wages to employees and delivering to customers the goods for which it has received orders in the event that emergency strikes.

The SAO-based clerical administration system — introduced by Hayashi’s team — will enable officials at Kobe Steel’s Tokyo branch to access and operate the in-house computerized system at the Kobe-based head office via satellite so that they can perform those priority administrative duties.

Regional banks and other types of businesses in the Tokai region, an area comprising central Japanese prefectures on the Pacific coast, are also introducing the SAO backup system.

On March 18, a government disaster prevention panel warned that a quake of magnitude 8 in the Tokai region could claim up to 10,000 lives and cause economic losses of 37 trillion yen.

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