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The AST Group (AST) has provided a bespoke solution for one of the UK’s largest electricity companies enabling machine-to-machine (M2M) data management via remote pole-mounted monitoring terminals. AST designed the solution to ensure the energy company can reduce supply downtime by monitoring its power distribution network and detecting faults immediately, even in remote areas such as the highlands and islands off the UK.
The customer requires a satellite solution to meet the challenge of managing power networks in the remotest parts of the distribution network. The key requirements for the customer were to:
Government regulator, Ofgem (the Office of Gas and Electricity Markets) closely monitors supply and has the authority to levy heavy fines if supply to consumers is disrupted. Energy suppliers need to ensure their infrastructure is resilient, if a technical issue is undetected, or power is interrupted, the financial penalties for suppliers can be severe. In January 2020, three energy firms were forced to pay a total of £10.5m following a power cut in August 2019 that left over a million people without electricity and caused travel chaos.
In urban areas, monitoring, accessing and fixing power supply networks is relatively straightforward. However, power networks located in remote and rural areas are more difficult and expensive to maintain. In the past, utility companies would deploy engineers to these remote locations to manually check networks, investigate faults or problems wherever and whenever they occur.
Satellite is the only viable option for resilient M2M monitoring and communications across remote regions, and where a backup to the terrestrial network is required. The solution for this customer is an end-to-end satellite communications system, delivering Internet Protocol (IP) services for machine-to-machine (M2M) data transfer.
AST’s solution uses Cobham SATCOM EXPLORER 540 terminals that operate on Inmarsat’s BGAN M2M satellite service – controlled and monitored through AST’s IRIS remote terminal manager.
Pole-mounted satellite terminals were installed to address and resolve the two main issues associated with maintaining a reliable power supply – detecting and diagnosing issues immediately when they occur and a significant reduction of direct personnel costs (engineers deployed to the site to diagnose and resolve problems).
The EXPLORER 540 is the world's first and only BGAN M2M terminal designed to operate on both Inmarsat BGAN and cellular 2G/3G/GPRS networks. This allows for seamless integration of satellite communication into an existing ground-based network, or to operate as a standalone satellite service, providing additional resilience to the system.
Data and communication
To segregate the data, AST created a dedicated APN (Access Point Name) with Inmarsat to connect devices to a public network, while simultaneously protecting valuable data. The advantage of having a dedicated APN is greater security against cyber threats and increased visibility and control. The APN is programmed in the SIM cards before they are dispatched with the terminals for installation. Client data is directed through the AST INTEGRA network at the data centre in London, before being delivered to the client.
Utilising AST’s remote terminal management solution, IRIS, remote control of the satellite M2M terminals is enabled for all key tasks including firmware upgrades, start/stop data sessions, retrieval of network information and access to reset passwords. IRIS reduces the need for costly physical site visits and provides the means to deliver a universal solution through a single web interface. Many of the customer's locations are more than a day’s drive away from HQ (or only easily accessible by helicopter) meaning that IRIS enables strategic priority to be given to those with known issues, maximising the time and cost of their engineering teams.
Control of hundreds of pole-mounted terminals in remote locations is enabled and accessed through the clear, simple management tool within HQ. The energy provider can now implement a strategically planned maintenance schedule guided by real-time data from their terminals. Without IRIS Terminal Manager, diagnostics and network monitoring would be complex, time-consuming and would require regular site visits by engineers.
Support and training
AST’s team of experts have provided extensive training to the energy company’s engineers on the hardware, network, airtime, installation, IRIS, and online portal services. Since roll-out began and the system became operational, the customer has received AST’s enhanced, 24/7/365 support, which includes a dedicated support engineer and account manager.