Distributed Real Time Spectrum Monitoring

Radio interference is unwanted signals caused by faulty or illegal equipment that emits energy outside of legally controlled limited. It can interrupt all manner of equipment and cause chaos.
- Nicholas Hill, CEO.

The Challenge

Organisations with assets or critical processes that rely on radio signalling can range from international airports and power stations to office blocks. This requires constant monitoring for radio interference threats, and responding effectively to them when they occur.

Monitoring the radio spectrum for interference poses a range of challenges. There is the need to monitor a large amount of bandwidth in the electromagnetic spectrum concurrently, driving the need for complex receiver hardware with wide instantaneous bandwidths as well as a capability to process large volumes of data in real time.

Another key challenge is the wide geographic areas that need coverage. This ideally requires a dense network of receivers to identify and locate signals in amongst wanted signals. The need to have a distributed population of complex receivers has previously been unexplored, primarily due to the cost of hardware and the burden of deploying the infrastructure.

 

The Approach

Over recent years, the cost of small Software Defined Radio (SDR) platforms has been falling whilst their capability has improved. These technical advances allowed Plextek to redefine the trade-offs in spectrum monitoring to create a network of low cost sensor nodes.

Angle of arrival techniques were implemented using phase locked dual channel SDRs allowing better performance than a simple power of arrival based system, which struggles to locate devises not surrounded by SDR nodes.

Signal processing was implemented to allow the SDR deployment to cooperate as a collective, reducing detection false alarms and allowing better localisation in a multi-path rich environment.

The Outcome

Plextek have demonstrated that a network of distributed low cost devices can provide a wider coverage and better detection of lower amplitude threats across a site with complex propagation characteristics than traditional single sensor systems.

Plextek’s distributed spectrum monitoring system is a new and powerful platform for monitoring interference issues at high value sites.

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Smart City Parking System

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- Philip Handley, Smart DCC Ltd.

The Challenge

Finding a parking space in a busy city can be frustrating. It is also a leading contributor to traffic congestion and air pollution within urban environments.

Gorizont Telecom approached Plextek to deliver the key enabling technologies for a system to detect occupancy in on-street parking spaces. This real-time data could notify drivers of the available slots to enable smarter parking and alleviate congestion.

This required a highly accurate in-road parking sensor, citywide radio coverage and a secure back-end server with ultra-high availability.

The solution would be implemented in Moscow, Russia and due to the winter weather, the entire project had to be compressed into six months, from initial research through to city-wide deployment. As a result, our sensors would have to cope with harsh temperatures and road conditions.

The Approach

After investigating a number of sensing methods, a magnetometer was selected as the primary sensor. Because neighbouring vehicles, passing vehicles or parallel-parked vehicles can produce false results, we developed signal processing algorithms, threshold manipulation and self-calibration programs to achieve the false trigger rate specified by the client.

The sensors had no external power supply, so they were designed to operate on a low cost internal battery with a five-year lifespan. The radio communications design was a challenge as the top of the sensor had to be flush with the road surface requiring a unique antenna created to fit around other components.

Plextek was also responsible for the design of the base station infrastructure and server that gathered the sensor data and distributed it to user facing Apps and signage.

The Outcome

The whole system was delivered and installed just before the winter freeze, allowing Gorizont Telecom to complete all acceptance criteria.

The radio design allowed a relatively sparse network of base stations to be used to save cost and the straightforward sensor deployment and calibration procedure allowed 11,000 in-road parking sensors to be deployed in two just weeks.

The technology has been successfully re-deployed in other Russian cities, including St. Petersberg.

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Smart Utility Meters

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- Philip Handley, Smart DCC Ltd.

The Challenge

Reporting usage statistics for billing is just the tip of the iceberg. Smart Meters provide communications between individual properties and the nationwide utility networks – facilitating a broad range of functionalities.

Smart DCC Ltd’s (The Data Communications Company) aim was to provide a Smart Meter communications infrastructure with reliable nationwide coverage.

The second generation Smart Meters operate over two radio systems, a cellular system covering the south and centre of the UK and a UHF band radio system in the north.

Achieving the right coverage requires meeting challenging RF emission specifications set out by the Smart Meter suppliers. To tackle this issue, Plextek were contracted to independently assess the requirements, the radio link budget and the performance of different Smart Meters to help ensure correct system operation.

The Approach

Plextek designed some of the very first Smart Meter radio deployments in the US, providing radio communications with reliable coverage in the licence-free bands. This expertise left us well placed to act as an independent technical reviewer for DCC.

A key output of our review was that measuring low-level emissions is close to the limits of what is possible with typical RF test configurations.

Plextek created a comprehensive test specification and established a reliable independent test facility so that the Smart Meter suppliers could record repeatable results against a common test regimen. The specification and testing process are subject to review by a working group comprising Smart Meter manufacturers, DCC and BEIS.

The Outcome

Armed with Plextek’s measurement data, the Smart Meter manufacturers have the information needed to adjust their designs to meet the noise emission limits and demonstrate compliance with the system requirements.

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Smart City Street lighting Infrastructure

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- Philip Handley, Smart DCC Ltd.

The Challenge

The monitoring and control of street lights has become the backbone of global Smart Cities – initially driven by the need to save energy and reduce costs, but rapidly becoming the ubiquitous hub through which all manner of urban data feeds are collated.

Telensa’s PLANet is a world leading lighting control system, deployed on 1.5 million lights around the world and required our expertise to help further develop the technology.

The challenge was to deliver a license free radio system to allow communication between hundreds of thousands of nodes over citywide areas, all with minimal running costs.

A range of required extra features, from meeting stringent metering specifications to global approvals and extended product lifespans, made this an exciting Internet of Things (IoT) design brief.

The Approach

Plextek created a custom Ultra Narrow Band (UNB) radio protocol, capable of ranges over 16km with a single base station about to connect to up to 5000 sensor nodes.

The monitoring and control involved sensing the voltage and current in the lamp unit and deriving the power consumption and the power factor – power factor is important as it indicates the “health” of the lamp; a falling lamp will have a high power factor. This information is transmitted to the base station that then sends commands to the street lights to either switch or dim.

With exposed hardware on top of the street light column, a strict environmental specification was called for with respect to temperature range, water tightness and resistance to deterioration of the plastic sensor housing caused by sunlight.

The Outcome

Our UNB Low Power Wide Area (LPWA) technology has been tried and tested in live global deployments for over a decade now, successfully helping Telensa build their position as a Smart City Market Leader.

Acting as Telensa’s design authority, Plextek continue to support the technology through adding new features and product variants to meet changing market needs.

Telensa have now taken the lead in providing cities with a range of urban data and sensing solutions, with Plextek providing technical services to facilitate these bold new Smart City products and services.

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Drone Inspection of Solar Farms

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. As luctus nisi viverra libero aliquam, and viverra ante arises. Mauris nec ante vel is posuere.
- Philip Handley, Smart DCC Ltd.

The Challenge

Government incentives and lower cost Photo Voltaic (PV) cells have seen solar generation expand across the UK over the past decade. Solar energy is now capable of contributing close to 10 GW to the national grid in peak seasons.

Consequently, solar farms are big business. Maximising the efficiency of their operation really pays off for operators, but requires complex maintenance and advanced monitoring.

Our client, Above Surveying, approach Plextek to improve their inspection methods, previously a labour intensive activity performed by highly trained analysts.

As the business grew, airborne drones were utilised as a scalable solution to capture precise thermographic and video diagnostic data.

The challenge was to translate data collected from an airborne drone into a format that machine-learning tools could process. This involved removing solar glint and other artefacts and rationalising images with ground plans.

The Approach

Plextek provided consultancy recommending the best image processing and machine-learning work flows to allow automated data analysis.

Plextek worked closely with Above Surveying technical teams to assess feasibility of different approaches, settling on a recommendation that could be easily implemented within their existing processes and workflow.

The Outcome

Plextek’s input helped Above Surveying automate their analysis, removing a bottleneck to expanding their business.

Above surveying have now checked over 8.5 million solar panel modules, identifying more than 200,000 defects, allowing their solar farm customers to optimise efficiency and revenue.

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