Rescue workers and residents in the disaster-hit Noto Peninsula, central Japan, are increasingly turning to Elon Musk's Starlink satellite internet service, as the magnitude-7.6 earthquake that struck on New Year's Day damaged communications infrastructure and services remain disrupted.

Japanese telecom operator KDDI Corp., which offers in the country the Starlink service run by SpaceX, one of the tech billionaire's companies, has offered 550 Starlink routers to shelters, government offices and disaster medical assistance teams operating in the areas.

At a fire department in Wajima, Ishikawa Prefecture, one of the hardest hit areas, 300 firefighters started using the service for their rescue operations.

Photo taken on Jan. 5, 2024, shows two Starlink satellite antennas set up outside a fire station in quake-hit Wajima in Ishikawa Prefecture. (Kyodo)

"It really helps because we can now know what other rescue workers are up to and what the central government is trying to do," one of the firefighters said.

The Starlink service also became available to 350 evacuees at an elementary school in Suzu, Ishikawa.

"I can now collect necessary information smoothly, such as weather data," said Juichi Iseki, 63, one of the evacuees. "The Line (messaging) app has also sped up."

Photo taken Jan. 11, 2024, shows a free Wi-Fi access point using the Starlink satellite internet service being made available at a school, which is serving as an evacuation shelter, in quake-hit Suzu, Ishikawa Prefecture. (Kyodo)

Starlink was introduced in Japan in December 2022. The service utilizes low-orbit satellites that offer higher-speed internet than existing satellite services without large-scale equipment.

The introduction of the Starlink service in Japan comes as the technology has proved successful in war-torn Ukraine, where it was used to provide communications technology in areas where existing infrastructure was destroyed.

Previously, wireless radio and existing satellite communication systems were used in disaster-stricken areas, but services requiring high-speed connections and large amounts of data such as video calls had been difficult, said Yuichiro Usuda, head of a government panel tasked with promoting disaster preparedness measures.

A communication service like Starlink is particularly useful in the Noto Peninsula, where there is limited transport access, he said.

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