European Commission finances emergency mobile networks plan

In 'Marius' project, helicopters are used to set up temporary SMS networks in the case of a crisis.

Caroline McCarthy Former Staff writer, CNET News
Caroline McCarthy, a CNET News staff writer, is a downtown Manhattanite happily addicted to social-media tools and restaurant blogs. Her pre-CNET resume includes interning at an IT security firm and brewing cappuccinos.
Caroline McCarthy
The European Commission has signed on as the primary financier of a project that will allow temporary mobile networks to be set up in normally hard-to-reach locations during emergencies.

The project, called Marius (Mobile Autonomous Reactive Information System for Urgency Situations), was coordinated by the European Aeronautic Defense and Space Company, or EADS.

The simplified mobile networks will be headquartered in helicopters, according to a release Friday from French mobile technology company Swapcom, which is one of the companies that has been contracted as part of Marius. That way, if some kind of crisis takes place in an area where standard cellular networks are crippled or are unavailable to begin with, a "mini-mobile network" onboard one of the helicopters will facilitate communication. They won't be able to carry cell phone calls; rather, the mini-networks will operate exclusively with SMS text messages sent en masse from authorities and rescue teams to the population at risk.

Optimally, Marius-equipped helicopters will make rescue efforts easier by improving communication capabilities, but the project has yet to be tried in the field. The system was tested in a laboratory in December, and the European Commission is now aiming for an onsite test in Valencia, Spain, before July.

Neither EADS nor the European Commission was available for comment.