LEC leads the util­ity dig­i­tal way

Lesotho Times - - Business -

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.

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