Telemetry in Remote Locations

April 5th, 2019

As the uptake of smart technology gathers steam, you may have wondered why it hasn’t happened sooner. After all, we’ve had accessible smartphones and internet-connected technology since the mid-nineties. Has a lack of investment, the high cost of equipment, fear of new tech, or cybersecurity concerns held us back, perhaps?

While some of these factors have affected the speed of smart tech take-up, a key issue holding back the rising tide was the limitations of telemetry. In other words, the inability to transmit data reliably or cost-effectively from a sensor to the Cloud or an allocated IT system. This is especially true for remote or inaccessible locations where a significant digital divide still exists between city and rural. While city dwellers have the luxury of multiple mobile towers and fast transfer speeds, rural communities continue to be limited by the lack of mobile infrastructure and the cost of network access.

For rural residents, topography or property size create their own challenges, interrupting signals or falling out of range.  To circumvent some of these issues, rural residents found themselves installing satellite dishes on their roofs, angled towards the closest house with internet access.

Telstra’s Mobile Black Spot Program and the ACCC

Previously, two connectivity options existed for rural properties – copper fixed line (as opposed to the newer fibre optic) or mobile networks, only accessible if the property was in a serviced area.

Although Telstra’s Federal Government-funded Mobile Black Spot Program has increased 3G/4G network availability in remote areas, the infrastructure can only be used by Telstra and Telstra Network operators. The Australian Consumer Competition’s decision in 2017 to allow dominant network providers such as Telstra to maintain exclusive use of their mobile networks meant that rural residents continue to be limited in choice and service quality of network providers.

Fast forward to today and a growing number of alternative lower cost options are becoming available to remote users. The latest transmission options use low frequencies that are no longer licensed by large data providers, or satellite technology to bounce the signals directly to rural properties.

SigFox, LoRaWAn, NB-IoT and LTE-M

SigFox and LoRaWan (long-range wide area network) are two of the lowest bandwidth options suited to rural and remote locations, both in terms of infrastructure and cost. What the user sacrifices in slow bandwidth (up to 50 Kbps vs over 20 Mbps) can be offset by low power consumption and reduced network fees.  In fact, LoRaWan was specifically designed for use with the Internet of Things. Both options work well for applications that require small amounts of data to be transmitted continuously, such as agricultural requirements for soil moisture and temperature monitoring.

Over the past few years, two new players have entered the game: NB-IoT (Narrowband-Internet of Things) and LTE-M (long term technology-CAT-M1). Both are LPWA (low power wide area) licensed cellular services and are also suited to applications that send smaller amounts of data, and to devices that require a long-term battery life. Telstra rolled out LTE-M over its existing mobile network in 2017, followed by NB-IoT in early 2018.

Worldwide, 2019 is set to be the year when NB-IoT takes off with American telco AT&T rolling out the network in the USA and Mexico, and Chinese and Indian telecommunication providers planning extensive coverage within their countries in 2019-2020. Within Australia, Telstra and Ericsson teamed up in late 2018 to achieve an increased reach from 40km up to 100km for NB-IoT signals from a base station.

NBN and Sky Muster™

The introduction of NBN (the National Broadband Network) within Australia has been heralded as the answer to remote connectivity, though the rollout has been slow and flawed. On the positive side, NBN (a government-owned company) launched Sky Muster™ broadband in 2016, which works by beaming internet connectivity from ground stations to space satellites, which in turn beam connectivity to remote homes with satellite dishes. The program offers download speeds of up to 25 Mbps (uploads up to 5 Mbps) and their upcoming Sky Muster Plus service will boost these speeds by as much as 25Mbps.

While the cost of Sky Muster™ is still significantly higher than low bandwidth solutions, the speed of data transfer connectivity offers Australian agriculture and rural businesses previously unavailable opportunities. Combined with low frequency solutions, the potential to increase productivity and communication is vast. In addition, Telstra has stated that other mobile network providers are permitted to use the NBN mobile towers.

The Future

As inner-city residents anticipate the expected 10-20 Gbps download speed of the upcoming 5G, rural communities know they’re unlikely to access such transmission speeds in the near future. Yet the provision and uptake of low bandwidth technologies is enabling the agricultural industry and rural businesses to embrace much-needed smart technology for cost-saving, efficiency and resource streamlining.

As a result, rural residents, businesses and the agricultural industry are among the greatest beneficiaries of Industry 4.0, as evolving telemetry solutions continue to break down traditional barriers to productivity.

At mySmart, we understand the challenges of telemetry. Whether you’re at the design stage of your smart building, or looking to futureproof your existing building, we’re an Australian company at the forefront of creating intelligent environments.  

Contact us to identify how our solutions can effect positive change for your needs – it’s what we’re good at. 

Building smart cities, one mySmart building at a time.