Mobitex Technology - Solutions - Case study

Metropolitan Fire & Emergency Services Board, Aus.

When Melbourne decided to outsource its fire monitoring functions, the Metropolitan Fire and Emergency Services Board turned to Tyco, the world's leading supplier to the fire and security services segment. Now, 5,000 fire panels are being added to United Wireless' Mobitex network, with 4,000 more to be installed over the next 12 months.

Tyco fired up by wireless

Australian mobitex operator United Wireless recently won a very major order from Tyco, which will use wireless data technology to provide fire monitoring services for commercial, residential and industrial premises in the Melbourne area. In the first stage of the deployment to start in June, 5,000 fire panels will be connected to the Mobitex network. It is expected that an additional 4,000 will then be added over the next 12 months.

This contract is the result of a decision by Melbourne's Metropolitan Fire and Emergency Services Board (MFESB) to outsource its fire monitoring functions. The reasons for this decision were that the existing monitoring equipment was not year-2000 compliant and can no longer be supported. Instead, it is being decommissioned in favor of the new system.

Furthermore, the existing equipment requires copper land lines for the transmission of alarm signals. Telstra, the partially government-owned telecommunications operator, is currently upgrading its network to fiber optic cable, which is not compatible with the old monitoring equipment.

Network quality decisive
Tyco uses an application called Centaur ASE, which connects a building's fire system to the Tyco Monitoring Network. In Melbourne, this connection is provided by United Wireless' Mobitex network. Alarm and fault signals generated by fire panels in the alarm system are thus transferred wirelessly to Tyco, with alarm signals automatically forwarded to dispatch fire service vehicles. Fault signals, on the other hand, immediately alert Tyco staff in the customer care center of potential problems at the site.

United Wireless was chosen for the quality and reliability of its network. With Mobitex, the radio modem always chooses the most appropriate radio channel and base station in the area in which it is operating, thus ensuring that signal strength is always optimized. In addition, the error checking and recovery algorithms used in the Mobitex network ensure that there is no data corruption.

United Wireless' advantages over GSM for this type of application are obvious. Because every second is critical in a fire monitoring application, GSM call set-up times, which are typically around 20 seconds, were a major disadvantage. Alarm and fault signals over the Mobitex network, on the other hand, normally take about five seconds. Because packet switching is used and there is no need for an end-to-end connection, the network guarantees that alarms will not be lost due to call drop outs.

Cost was another factor in Tyco's decision to use Mobitex. With a GSM service, both connection time and distance have a major impact on traffic charges. In the Mobitex system, however, which is ideal for the short, bursty traffic between a fixed telemetry terminal and a host, charges are based on the number of packets sent and do not increase with distance.

Major customer benefits
The Tyco Centaur ASE solution provides several major benefits for the Metropolitan Fire and Emergency Services Board and building owners and managers:

Reduced monitoring costs ­ The Centaur ASE reduces fire alarm monitoring costs by eliminating the expensive fixed line currently leased by building owners from Telstra. The amount saved depends on the length of the line, but for most customers the savings range from AUD 200 to AUD 2,500 per year.

Reduction in false alarm charges ­ False alarms to the Fire Service are reduced, because faults are not automatically forwarded. Instead, these signals are trapped by Tyco and managed according to the building owner's instructions.

Multiple system monitoring ­ One Centaur ASE unit can monitor up to six separate fire alarm systems at one site.

Back-up link to Tyco ­ The system includes a dial-up modem as a back-up to the Mobitex network.

Alarm monitoring streamlined
"With Mobitex, we can cost-effectively transmit two-way monitoring data through an error-free system to our Fire Monitoring Customer Care Centre. This will guarantee that we always get the instant and accurate information we need to keep people safe," says Tyco's managing director Peter Parsons.

Tyco will be removing all fire alarm connections to fire stations. This streamlines the monitoring path to the MFESB's dispatch center, allowing the fire service to focus more on fire prevention and timely emergency response.

Preparations for installing the new system have been in progress for more than a year. United Wireless has worked closely with Tyco on testing hardware and software as it was developed. In addition, the Mobitex operator has planned coverage to meet Tyco's requirements and will be installing an additional four base stations in the Melbourne area to extend coverage.

"Our network has been in place in the Melbourne area for five years," reports United Wireless CEO Joe Gatto. "We are ready for the extra demands of this new contract. We look forward to working with Tyco on this project, as well as cooperating with them on future projects."

The Australian Mobitex operator has specifically targeted telemetry applications and has a number of other customers in this segment, but the Tyco contract represents a major breakthrough both in terms of the number of installations and its importance as a reference for similar projects in the future. With public authorities constantly looking to reduce costs and continued deregulation in the power, water and gas industries, United Wireless' focus on telemetry is paying off handsomely, while improving service and contributing to public safety.

A base for expansion
The advantage of fixed telemetry is that most of the terminals targeted by United Wireless are in metropolitan areas where the majority of the population lives. This allows the operator to concentrate coverage to these more densely populated areas. Establishing a network to serve fixed subscribers also allows the operator to expand the network over time to meet the needs of mobile applications.

In addition, one customer with a fixed telemetry application brings many more subscribers to the network than one customer with a mobile application. The Tyco application, for example, initially brings 5,000 fire panels to the network, with a further 4,000 expected over the next 12 months. One customer with a mobile application for a vehicle fleet might bring only a few hundred subscribers to the network. Although the monthly revenue produced by the fire panels is lower than a mobile application, the large number of subscribers more than compensates for this.

In Australia, the power, water and gas industries are being deregulated. This means that utility companies for the first time are competing for customers and being forced to look for products and systems that will allow them to remain competitive in a deregulated market. Automated remote telemetry applications provide these competitive advantages, allowing meters to be read remotely by the utility and eliminating the need for on-site reading by metering personnel.

Why target the telemetry market?

The software developed for the M3000, which will soon be released by Ericsson, provides a runtime environment for an on-board application (OBA). At the heart of this environment is a Java Virtual Machine (JVM) and an onboard application interface (OAI), which provides a high-level interface for the firmware for lower-level radio and Mobitex transport functions. This not only relieves developer's is of the burden of learning the details of radio communications. The OAI firmware in the M3000 stand alone modem, I/O, encapsulates the MASC protocol for maximum efficiency. A Java application can use the I/O, D/A, A/D and I2C channels for monitoring and control of for example alarms, vending machines and other equipment.

United Wireless has specifically targeted fixed telemetry applications as a means of achieving network development in a cost-effective manner. Fixed telemetry applications allow the operator to easily define coverage requirements. This is more difficult with mobile applications, which generally have wider and more varied coverage requirements.

In a country as large as Australia with a sparse population of 18 million, this is particularly important. Mobile applications require providing coverage over a large area where the population is scattered, pushing up network development expenses to the point where they are prohibitive. There are simply too many geographically remote regions of Australia that cannot be covered cost-effectively.

Ideal for telemetry
Mobitex is an ideal technology for telemetry applications, since the traffic generated by these applications consists of short exchanges typically containing only a small amount of data. The network is optimized for this type of bursty traffic and allows many terminals to share the same radio channel. Packet switching also ensures a reliable and secure communications channel and lowers costs for telemetry applications compared with other network technologies, since traffic costs are not affected by time or distance. In addition, the group broadcast function in Mobitex allows a host to poll fixed telemetry terminals cost-effectively and instantaneously.

As the Tyco contract shows, focusing on telemetry is a very successful strategy for United Wireless. Although sales cycles typically extend to one year or more, the Mobitex operator is able to work closely with the customer in developing and deploying the ultimate solution. United Wireless currently has many fixed telemetry customers and expects to expand this market substantially over the coming years.

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