LEC leads the utility digital way
AT a time when the bulk of metropolitan cities in southern Africa are gripped by crippling power demand due to several factors, one utility has emerged as front-runner in the digitalisation of its voice communications.
The Lesotho Electricity Company (LEC) has just taken delivery of a nationwide multi-site linked state-of-the-art Digital Mobile Radio system, designed and deployed by Emcom Wireless, a South African-based professional radio communications business.
Prior to this implementation, LEC, a long-standing customer of Emcom Wireless, made use of a combination of standalone analogue repeaters, cellular systems and landlines for communication across the regional offices, scattered across the mountainous Kingdom of Lesotho. Communication between centres, field staff and management was not only costly, but often cumbersome.
A detailed field study was conducted prior to starting this process and involved extensive travel across the entire country to not only identify suitable sites for use that would give best coverage, but also understand the operational challenges faced by users in their daily work.
Project Leader in the implementation and Director for Sales and Business Development for Emcom, Tony Sipho Sibanda, said this about the planning: “Our initial scoping days involved trekking up some of the wildest terrain in Africa in search of suitable summits to mount repeaters, and we had to face snow, lightning and rain as challenges in determining the best locations. Knowing firsthand what users faced in their daily work, we were able to tap into the experience within our organisation to then engage with the client and find not only the appropriate technology, but product too that would meet their needs.”
Tait Communications of New Zealand was selected as the vendor of choice for a robust, feature rich and secure DMR Tier 3 product, and work commenced a year ago to design, build and test the system under different conditions.
“Having deployed several similar systems worldwide in this space, we were happy to recommend and support Emcom in the deployment of this system in Lesotho,” said Dirk Van der Torre, Support Specialist for Tait in New Zealand, who has worked with Tait for the past 20 years supporting African projects through Emcom Wireless.
DMR Tier 3 is an all-digital open standard radio protocol that covers the licensed trunked mode of operation. The protocol’s strength lies in its ability to deliver crucial voice and coded data signals (SCADA) over the same network at the same time.
This is achieved through optimising the use of frequencies through what is called time slots, via Time Division Multiple Access (TDMA) technology. The technology has the effect of doubling the channel capacity of any network, better utilising limited frequency spectrum and allowing more volume of data and voice communications.
An exciting feature of the LEC network is its integration with a Redi Talk Despatcher loaded with the Google Maps application. This allows head office operations to have real-time location visibility of all radios and vehicles on the network, talk to specific radios when required and monitor elements such as standing time, speed and distance from an incident, all on one screen.
“As a utility geared towards customer service and optimising availability of the grid, the new system has seen us identify and resolve maintenance issues much faster as well as have constant control of the utilisation of our resources,” highlighted Fusi Ntoa, LEC Operations Manager, who is the custodian of the system.
“When a problem arose in the field, it often took several days to get a maintenance team to pinpoint the location on the grid and a further couple of days to get communication to head office to dispatch a team with the correct spares for repair.
Nowadays we can talk seamlessly from Maseru to Popa on one platform and even see the team’s location in real-time as they approach an incident,” added Seitlheko, General Manager of LEC.THE Kingdom of Lesotho is a high-altitude, landlocked country encircled by South Africa, crisscrossed by a network of rivers and mountain ranges, including 3 500m-high peaks. The estimated population of two million inhabitants is scattered in remote villages often only accessible on foot, by horse or helicopter.
The country covers 30 355km2. It is the only independent state in the world that lies entirely above 1 000 metres in elevation. Its lowest point of 1 400 metres is thus the highest in the world. One of the key exports of the Kingdom is water into the Republic of South Africa from the Katse Dam which generates hydroelectricity for its inhabitants.
“Working in an environment this unique demanded we think outside the box and saw us deliver a dependable fully customised solution that’s built with the needs of our customer in mind,” said Mr Sibanda.
In handing out certificates of acceptance at the event, guest of honour Director in the Ministry of Communications Science and Technology, Khiba Masiu, said: “The path LEC has taken falls in line with government’s vision of optimising expenditure through infrastructure sharing and we look forward to this network’s expansion to other state entities. We fully support this initiative by Emcom and LEC as it’s the key in the empowerment of our nation.”
Also represented at the event was the Lesotho Mounted Police Service and Water and Services Company of Lesotho (WASCO), which were treated to a demonstration and explanation of some of the digital features on the live system.
The journey that LEC has taken is similar to that of larger utilities in Africa who have come to realise the importance of working with a committed partner to not only identify the correct digital technology to implement, but also take the time to design this around growing needs while at the same time ensuring a secure deployment of this mission-critical infrastructure.
— EMCOM Wireless.
LEC generates and supplies electricity throughout the country.