CabiSense moves your field operations from Dispatch-to-Diagnose to Dispatch-to-Restore

Overview

SqwidNet was launched in November 2016 as the licensed Sigfox operator in South Africa. The Sigfox network offers low-cost access to IoT solutions in South Africa, creating opportunities for businesses small and large to create innovative solutions that change lives. SqwidNet’s IoT Sigfox network has nationwide coverage for the Internet of Things allowing millions of sensors and devices to send small packets of data for analysis, immediate action, and record-keeping. The network covers over 90 percent of the population or 50.4 million people, and 90 percent of South Africa’s national roads.

SqwidNet had begun building its Sigfox network in 2016. Kagiso Modise, the Network Operations Executive at SqwidNet explains: “Monitoring, tracking, and improving network performance isn’t an easy task. A business needs the right employees, technologies, and strategies to properly address network performance issues. Without all this, the business will experience several challenges that prevent them from adequately improving the performance of their networks.”

Business Challenges

Modise further explained some of the challenges faced by SqwidNet and their Sigfox network.

Network performance and power outages

Performance isn’t just about speed; it’s about reliability, too. Network designs need to handle spikes in load and provide alternate routes to enable communication to continue even when a link fails, or high sites are vandalised. Businesses implementing IoT into their operations require 24×7 network availability, which is impossible when load shedding or load reduction is implemented by Eskom, South Africa’s primary electricity supplier.

Load shedding or load reduction is done countrywide as a controlled option to protect the electricity power system from a total blackout. For this reason, SqwidNet required a solution to prevent downtime on their Sigfox network caused by power outages.

Lack of network visibility and cost

“If you can’t see a portion of your network or track a particular performance metric, you can’t fully understand your network performance. The available budget also rarely meets the need for network services,” says Modise.
Network issues often suppress the continuation of a profitable and effective network. As issues occur, Field Service Technicians are dispatched and are required to travel distances to inspect high sites. For remote sites, overnight accommodation is required for the technician when travelling to a remotely located high site, further increasing the cost to restore the site. “We spend a lot of money and time to deploy a technician to determine the cause for a base station having no power,” says Modise.

Growth

The above two challenges would be easier to address if the network would remain the same, but it does not. There is a constant increase in the number of devices connected to the network, and with additional devices the network needs to be scaled and densified, “It is of utmost importance to maintain our service level as our network expand because we provide our customer with an SLA for the network” he says. SqwidNet required a solution that would assist them to constantly deliver the level of customer service which their customers expect.

COVID-19 Pandemic

The COVID-19 lockdown presented new challenges with regards to high site’s operations and maintenance. The availability of resources was limited, the teams were required to change their ways of working together including driving without assistants or in separate cars. Access to sites were delayed because of the changes to the processes to ensure compliance with regulations.
All these challenges highlighted the need for remote visibility and remote resolution of tasks that can be digitised and automated.

Investigated Solutions

Modise provides an explanation of the solutions investigated to prevent network downtime.

Out-of-band network management

Developing a solution that utilises an out-of-band network is cost-intensive and makes the network design more complex by running two networks.

Prototyping with development kits

Several prototype solutions were investigated to prevent and manage network downtime however these presented issues with scaling and roll-out across the SqwidNet Sigfox network.

The Selected Solution
CabiSense by NewWave IoT

SqwidNet’s field service supplier, Cirtech Communication, with extensive experience in the mining and alarm industry was requested to propose a solution utilising SqwidNet’s own Sigfox network. The CabiSense solution they proposed can monitor multiple zones while indicating the state of the different devices installed on-site. SqwidNet had agreed to run a POC (Proof of Concept) with the proposed solution that was developed over 18 months.

SqwidNet along with New Wave IoT began implementing the POC in October 2019 and had completed the roll-out across 100 high-sites by March 2020. The CabiSense device provided SqwidNet with the capability to remotely monitor their infrastructure giving meaning to the term ‘Remote Eyes’ as well as giving them the ability to reboot some of the infrastructure and perform certain tasks to restore services in the event of inadequate access to a site, giving meaning to the term ‘Remote Hands’.

Value and Outcomes

The POC proved that the CabiSense solution was the most suitable for SqwidNet. The POC had resulted in an improvement of the ability to restore a site and SqwidNet realised the below from the data available:

  • 33 saved field service dispatches

  • 60% reduction in MTTR (Mean Time to Respond)

  • 20% saving on field services cost

The circuit breaker relay allows the circuit breaker to be remotely by-passed, thereby restoring service.

The POC highlighted that the cause of most challenges experienced was related to power failures and as a result the need to bypass the circuit breaker at a site. This learning resulted in ‘Version 2’ of the CabiSense device being developed so that if the circuit breaker trips, the NOC (Network Operations Center) can remotely bypass the circuit breaker to restore service.

SqwidNet employee observing the 2-hour installation of the CabiSense device at a high site.

The success of the POC resulted in SqwidNet deciding to deploy the Cabisense device on all their high sites which commenced in October 2020 and will be completed by February 2021. The short period for this deployment is largely due to only 2-3 hours being required per install.

SqwidNet can remotely monitor and reset the UPS (Uninterruptible Power Supply) from the deployment of the CabiSense device.

Modise provides a list of the devices that SqwidNet can remotely monitor from the deployment of the Cabisense device across their network:

  • Primary Power

  • Back-up Power

  • UPS (Uninterruptible Power Supply)

  • Cabinet door is opened/closed

  • Perimeter sensors provide a security extension for an environmental view of the site

He further explains, “We now utilise data collected to make decisions, which is the product of having visibility of our high-sites. Previously trends were analysed to determine potential causes of issues that arose based on assumptions, we now use data to make decisions. Our NOCs are now empowered to resolve issues and there is less of a need to rely on someone arriving on site. The CabiSense device would require a level of adaptation for other Service Providers however the capabilities are now available and would serve the needs of other operators.”
The use of IoT allows physical objects to communicate their state and enable the digitisation of the physical world. This is how IoT is relevant in today’s contexts and can provide efficiency and visibility.

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