Imagine being able to detect if an intruder is attempting to breach the perimeter of a property in a remote location. Imagine knowing that your fence can detect the intrusion, notifying the authorities and preventing the intruders from getting any closer to their end goal.
In many sectors across South Africa and the world, it has become increasingly difficult to protect and monitor remote areas, preventing unauthorised access to protect both the employee and the intruder. People break in, sometimes without realising the danger, and the business bears the cost and the risk. But this scenario is starting to change. Low-cost technology, the inventive use of the Internet of Things (IoT), and access to low-bandwidth solutions has meant that fencing isn’t just fencing any more. It’s a defence.
“The first line of defence for any physical security system is the perimeter,” says Phathizwe Malinga, managing director of SqwidNet. “It can be extremely expensive to build extra infrastructure around the perimeter to protect it – a fence to protect a fence if you will. This often means you have to pay for extra services designed to support the security provided by the boundary and it starts to feel like a redundant circle of cost and complexity.”
The problem is that often companies don’t know that their perimeters have been breached until it is too late. They can remain undetected and put people at risk. This is particularly true in remote, rural locations across South Africa where vast distances and limited communications make it difficult to consistently monitor perimeters and access. Recently, SqwidNet collaborated with Teqcon, a South African mechanical and electronic design company, to address the problem at the point of origin.
Teqcon specialises in the design and development of perimeter detection devices and worked with SqwidNet to launch an intelligent, wireless perimeter solution that uses Sigfox to communicate. Called Wi-i, the solution is ideally suited to adding on that extra intelligent layer to sites that need extra security such as prisons, airports, nuclear facilities, military bases, residential estates and industrial complexes.
Low bandwidth and low cost
Hi-Tech Security Solutions asked Francois Snyman of Teqcon why the solution uses Sigfox as opposed to other GSM networks to communicate. One of the reasons was the lower costs involved and the low-bandwidth solution Sigfox delivers to a broad section of South Africa. Snyman says, “Sigfox is designed to transmit small pieces of data such as movement, location and temperature, up to 140 times per day. The network does not support applications such as live video streaming, however the way that the technology operates allows for many years of operation from a very small battery or power source.
“The two devices the companies developed, Wi-i Tremoli and the Wi-i Deflexi, are battery-powered, wireless, and simple to install,” explains Snyman. “They need zero infrastructure to be installed and their batteries last up to four years, so they are resilient and reliable as well. The Tremoli unit measures the amount of energy that a structure experiences when someone is trying to cut a fence or climb over it. The Deflexi unit is designed to monitor the cutting or spreading of electric fences.”
Both the Tremoli and Deflexi devices have been designed and optimised to use as little power as possible, notes Snyman, giving four years’ battery life from a single D-cell alkaline battery. This is achieved using ultra low-power microprocessor technology.
The Tremoli is a kinematic fence monitoring device, meaning it measures kinematic behaviour of a fence. If an intrusion occurs, the energy introduced into the fence by the intrusion changes the kinematic behaviour and this is what the Tremoli detects. It runs two detection algorithms, one for climb-over intrusions and one for fence-cut intrusions.
The Deflexi device is in essence a taut wire sensor, measuring the change in wire tension when an intrusion occurs. Typically this device is applied to taut wire style fences that allow the wires to move freely when spread (think of a high-quality electrified fence). Spreading the wires causes wire tension changes, which the Deflexi measures.
Add-on solution to existing fences
Both solutions basically sit at intermittent points along the fence and alert the relevant authorities when there is unusual activity along the perimeter. Each one works in a different way, so they are suited to different applications and installations, and each one uses the Sigfox network to communicate across the system. In the past, they could only connect their devices using Teqcon’s proprietary wireless network, or GSM (when available). Now they can use Sigfox for completely independent communication, especially in remote areas where other networks are not available.
“When Teqcon started work on the project, Sigfox wasn’t available in South Africa,” explains Malinga. “Now, using the Sigfox network, they can completely eliminate the need for base stations out in the field and the need to implement and maintain a GSM network. This means no unnecessary GSM network subscription costs or coverage limitations, and fewer base station installations, significantly reducing the cost of the solution to clients and potential use cases.”
While the term Sigfox may not be well known in the consumer market, Snyman explains that the Sigfox network currently covers over 90% of the South African population. “The Sigfox network infrastructure can be deployed in remote areas where necessary, using solar panels as a power source and satellite backhaul connectivity if there are no other options available. Sigfox devices are designed to operate for many years from a single battery, meaning they are not reliant on mains power and can be installed virtually anywhere.”
Security built in
When using a wireless communications solution, the obvious question of security remains: does the solution cater for secure transmission of data to prevent any type of cyber intrusion? Snyman says security is included in the package as, firstly, the products themselves use a proprietary protocol to communicate over a wireless network.
Moreover, security is of the highest priority and is built into the Sigfox technology at the lowest levels. “The radio protocol utilises multiple layers of security including encryption, authentication, anti-eavesdropping and anti-replay protection,” Snyman explains. “All communication is secured at the network level through a dedicated VPN and all outgoing data from the Sigfox server is fully encrypted. Sigfox communication is also extremely resilient towards radio jamming.”
The Sigfox network has reduced the operating and installation costs, improved the accessibility and capabilities of the system, and allowed for deeper integration across different sites and applications across the country. The solution helps to address a challenging issue in South Africa – the remote control of rural sites – and helps businesses protect their assets against intruders. Some sites are protected by perimeter fencing because access is dangerous, and this ensures that people are prevented from making a life-threatening mistake. It also allows for the business to minimise investment into extra layers of external infrastructure as it can be simply added onto existing fencing and adapted to suit specific requirements.
And although video streaming is not catered for in the Sigfox network, the system can be used to transmit location information and instructions to PTZ cameras to focus on specific areas.
“Collaborating with SqwidNet in embedding the Sigfox solution into both Wi-i Deflexi and Wi-I Tremoli has ensured that we can provide smart, relevant and absolutely secure solutions to the market,” concludes Snyman.
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