Infrastructure-free Communications for Rural Council Areas with Digital Dividend

Simoco Wireless Solutions Pty Ltd
Thursday, 04 May, 2023


Infrastructure-free Communications for Rural Council Areas with Digital Dividend

Local councils across rural Australia are faced with a unique set of challenges when it comes to critical communications. Not only do we have the increased frequency of adverse events like bushfires and floods to deal with but we also have a distinctly unhelpful geography not only from the point of view of size but also terrain.

With mobile cellular coverage being patchy to non-existent in large parts of the country, councils to date have been reliant on the good old two-way radio which has been a great servant for voice communications. And quite rightly so, because safety for council workers and residents has to be the number one priority. But with budgets under pressure how do you justify the cost of a network of radio base stations in areas of low population density, especially if they have to be rebuilt or repaired after every cyclone or bushfire?

Converging on a Solution

As if delivering voice coverage were not problematic enough, we now have the added dimension of the need for digital applications. Council workers in urban areas would be lost without access to email, Microsoft Teams and WhatsApp and this access to digital is now also part of the remit for rural areas. No matter how remote the location, councils want the benefits of digital transformation bringing to their workers from a cost-efficiency as well as a safety and worker wellbeing point of view. Faced with these challenges councils are increasingly looking at innovative approaches to providing reliable voice communications and access to data-based services in remote areas, without spending a fortune on infrastructure. One approach is offered by Simoco Wireless Solutions, using its Velocity technology within the council vehicles to provide converged communications, which includes two-way radio but which also makes use of cellular LTE/4G networks with a failover to satellite communications, where radio and cellular networks are not an option.

Never out of Range

Velocity is an intelligent edge computing device that sits in the vehicle alongside the existing two-way radio but provides access to cellular networks and satellite communications as and when required. When out range of two-way radio it connects, using “push to talk over cellular”, or PTToC, to the LTE/4G network and when there is no cellular coverage will continue to deliver voice via a satellite link. The intelligence within the Velocity unit means that it uses least cost routing to select the best carrier from a cost and signal point of view, while the users are blissfully unaware that they have been switched from two-way radio to cellular to satellite, possibly on the same call. Effectively we have two-way voice coverage across an entire council area , no matter how remote, with zero fixed infrastructure.

Turning Vehicles into Mobile Wi-Fi Hotspots

Beyond voice, the converged always-on nature of Velocity means that we can unlock the digital applications that are becoming so essential to councils in their day-to-day operations. Each vehicle is now effectively its own Wi-Fi hotspot, so workers can connect via cellular or satellite using their smart devices like tablets and laptops to send and receive emails or even hold a Teams, Skype or Zoom call with headquarters from the top of a remote mountain or in a valley gorge. As much of council work is involved in routine maintenance of infrastructure like water and power systems the problems can be more complex than can be conveyed over a two-way radio call and the ability to stream video could speed up any repair process dramatically. We can also imagine the value of video in an emergency situation where live streaming could relay essential information to fire and ambulance crews in real time. And from an employee wellbeing point of view, being connected via email or WhatsApp could be a major benefit when working a long shift hundreds of miles from home.

Integration with Satellite Comms — Game Changer for Remote Areas

Velocity was developed by Simoco in Australia to solve a problem for councils across Australia and takes account of the special challenges they are facing in remote areas. Even where population density is low or even in uninhabited areas councils still have to provide essential services, so the “do-nothing” option is not on the table and yet the cost of radio communications infrastructure cannot always be justified when they may only have a fleet of 50–100 vehicles. The ability to provide the options of cellular and satellite connectivity is a game changer in this respect and the cost of satellite communications has come down dramatically in recent years with the advent of low earth orbit providers like Starlink, which offer broadband data rates at a tenth of the cost of previous generations.

User Experience Matters

The kind of innovation that the infrastructure-free approach offers will only be adopted if it meets the needs of councils across the country from a functionality, costs and most importantly a safety point of view. Continuous communication, the ability to integrate digital applications and the potential for cost reduction only add up if the user experience is seamless. Being a leading player in the two-way radio space over many years, Simoco realised that the user wants to be able to pick up the “fist mic” and “get on the radio”. Now that “radio” call may be delivered using a digital route over different carriers, but it has the same familiar look and feel as the trusted two way radio.

Squaring the Circle

The converged communications without infrastructure approach offered by Velocity gives councils across Australia a ‘here and now’ solution to a perennial problem of providing cost-effective coverage across wide, sparsely populated areas of the country. At the same time it provides much-needed access to digital services and, with satellite communications costs coming down, there is an opportunity for councils to get the best of both worlds, in terms of always on, reliable voice and digital services, which could extend to the integration of IoT devices for water and flood and fire monitoring. As councils continue to try to square the circle between delivering services safely with a vigilant eye of the cost to the ratepayer, this kind of innovation is essential.

Top image credit: iStock.com/tsvibrav

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