Monitoring critical communications sites in remote New Zealand

In today’s world of 5G and WiFi hotspots, it’s easy to forget that 90% of the Earth lacks any kind of connectivity infrastructure. In New Zealand, for instance, only about 50% of the land mass currently has cell coverage, thanks in part to its rugged terrain that interrupts ground-based signals. Connecting people and devices in these remote regions is difficult, and often requires alternative methods for communicating and transmitting data.

New Zealand-based Motiv, a company that designs industrial IoT hardware and software solutions, is helping the New Zealand Department of Conservation (DOC) monitor critical communications equipment in some of these remote, unconnected areas. To reliably and cost-effectively transmit that monitoring data back to key decision makers, Motiv partnered with Swarm.

A New Zealand DOC radio repeater site. Image: Motiv.

Talking over mountains

DOC is responsible for the oversight and upkeep of more than 30% of New Zealand’s land, including preserving biodiversity and supporting search and rescue efforts in some of the country’s most remote regions. To help their team communicate in these areas, DOC uses more than 120 “radio repeater” sites, which help transmit handheld radio communications signals over the top of mountains that would otherwise block them.

These radio repeater sites need to be closely monitored for damage or low power warnings, so repairs can be made before the site fails.  Many of the sites are only accessible by helicopter and arranging access is both extremely expensive, and can be dangerous in poor weather conditions.  This means that sites may be out of service for many weeks at a time.

Now, however, DOC uses Motiv to remotely track key data points at these sites, including battery power voltage, peak loads, and the health of the solar panels that power the radio repeaters. Motiv also tracks how frequently each radio repeater site gets used, helping DOC to determine which locations to prioritize and which to potentially decommission.

A Motiv device at a DOC radio repeater site monitors power, usage, and more. Image: Motiv.

From mountaintop to laptop, via space

In these far-flung regions, transmitting the data that Motiv’s devices collect back to key decision makers is challenging. To provide reliable connectivity that reaches where cell networks don’t, Motiv turned to Swarm.

Swarm provides the world’s lowest-cost, global connectivity for IoT devices. Swarm’s network of satellites offers 100% global coverage, meaning Motiv’s devices can stay connected everywhere, even on mountaintops. Once Motiv gathers data on the sites, a Swarm modem embedded in the Motiv devices transmits that data through Swarm’s network of satellites, and back to the computers of those who need to see and act on the information.

“Swarm is a rock-solid communications technology,” says Motiv CEO Duncan Chisholm. “It needs to be. Some of the sites our solutions are deployed at are very remote and access may be impossible at certain times of the year. There is sometimes no mobile infrastructure where our customers operate, so we rely on Swarm to get the data we collect out of the field.”

“Swarm is a rock-solid communications technology… There is sometimes no mobile infrastructure where our customers operate, so we rely on Swarm to get the data we collect out of the field,” says Motiv CEO Duncan Chisholm.

For Motiv and DOC, legacy satellite solutions were not an option due to both their high cost and high power requirements. Power consumption, in particular, needed to be minimal so as not to burden the existing solar power systems. Swarm’s low power hardware and low cost data service made it the perfect connectivity solution for Motiv’s and DOC’s needs.

A New Zealand DOC radio repeater site at Milford Track. Image: Colin Hopkinson, New Zealand DOC.

Motiv is currently working with DOC to deploy 50 Swarm-enabled site monitoring systems. “DOC ​​feels that this program has already paid for itself,” says Duncan. “Not only have they avoided unnecessary helicopter trips to check the sites in person, but more importantly DOC has been able to effect repairs to a number of sites before they failed, meaning the rangers in the field are getting a more reliable service.”

A map showing the location of current monitoring deployments. Image: Motiv.

There is also an additional benefit to DOC with fewer helicopter deployments: “Reducing the number of helicopter flights to service these sites not only reduces costs, it also improves DOC’s sustainability”, says Colin Hopkinson, DOC Senior Radio Engineer. “DOC plans to be a low carbon business, and to achieve that it has to reduce its emissions. Currently helicopter use contributes about 3,000 tonnes per year of DOC’s total annual emissions of 10,000 tonnes. By reducing service flights to the repeater sites, it will greatly lessen our carbon emissions.”

With Motiv’s remote monitoring and Swarm’s data transfer capabilities, DOC can reduce the number of in-person visits by helicopter, which both cuts costs and reduces DOC’s carbon footprint.

By ensuring that radio repeater sites do not fail, Motiv and Swarm are helping the New Zealand Department of Conservation fulfill some of its critical functions and ensure the safety of its personnel.

We look forward to seeing the ongoing results of this partnership, as well as continuing to provide Motiv with low-cost, global connectivity to allow their broad range of IoT solutions to be used anywhere they are needed, even on mountaintops!

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