NOAA 96-28

CONTACT:  Barry Reichenbaugh       FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE


Just in time for the 1996 hurricane season, the Caribbean and North and Central American nations now have a state-of-the- art communications system for sharing meteorological warnings, forecasts and data. The Region IV Meteorological Telecommunications Network (RMTN), dedicated today in San Juan, Puerto Rico, replaces a slower, fragile "daisy chain" of telephonic cables with satellite technology, enhancing communications speed and reliability.

The countries served by the new system make up Regional Association IV of the World Meteorological Organization.

"RMTN gives all of our countries the capability to provide improved data collection and dissemination of weather warnings and forecasting services, especially during hurricane season between June and November," said Elbert W. Friday Jr., assistant administrator for weather services of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce.

The satellite communications capabilities are a dramatic improvement in speed, jumping data transmission rates from the previous 75 baud to 38.4 kilobits per second. This is about 60 times faster, the equivalent of taking one second instead of one minute to transmit a message. The increase in transmission rates will more than double the amount of meteorological products available to member countries, which should result in better weather services to people in the region.

Funding for much of the two-way communications system is a cooperative effort between NOAA and the World Meteorological Organization. RMTN systems in the region also have been funded by the Finnish Meteorological Service, France and the United Kingdom.

One break in the old land-based communications chain could cut off life-saving meteorological information to areas farther down the chain.

"The satellite communication technology is a great improvement over the old, less reliable land-line system," said Steve Pollonais of Trinidad and Tobago, president of the World Meteorological Organization's Region IV. "When Hurricane Marilyn tore through the island of St. Maarten last September, the RMTN satellite antenna survived the storm and provided communications for the relief effort."

RMTN is being used in conjunction with the World Area Forecast System, a developing worldwide communications network that is giving pilots and flight controllers more detailed, up- to-date significant weather forecasts and charts for flight planning.

MCI Corp. of Washington, D.C., and Alden Electronics Inc. of Westborough, Mass., are the primary contractors for designing, building and equipping the system.

MCI is providing the communications portion of the system based on data transmission technology using small satellite earth-station dishes, called Very Small Aperture Terminals, to provide more cost-effective, reliable, high-speed data transmission services.

Alden is providing user terminals for use with RMTN and the World Area Forecast System. The terminals -- known as Satellite Telecommunication and Analysis for Region IV -- combine the equipment needed for analysis, display, communications and storage in a single high-performance microcomputer.


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