Who could have anticipated the world events that have shaped 2020? A global pandemic. Social unrest. Economic upheaval. While each critical situation has had an impact on our business, Southern Linc has adapted quickly to better serve customers and meet 2020 objectives. We recently spoke with Alan McIntyre, Engineering Director for Southern Linc, who updated us about LTE network progress in light of recent business impacts:
Progress on New Cellular Sites – Despite COVID‐19 setbacks, McIntyre says the team has been working diligently the last few months on construction of 160 new cellular sites. A total of 65 have launched so far this year–23 in Alabama, 40 in Georgia, one in Mississippi, and one in Florida (completing the build in that state). McIntyre guesses the team was delayed around two months due to wet weather and the lockdown, which delayed zoning hearings and permits for new site builds. Unlike earlier sites, most of the remaining sites require new tower construction. The complete build is now estimated to conclude mid-next year and will have around 1,320 cellular sites–well above the 855 sites for iDEN.
Improving Redundant Transport – McIntyre says the team has been working to "make the network more reliable and resilient, in case we encounter a rough hurricane season this year." A top priority for the team has been ensuring redundant transport, or backup network support, for each site in the event of an outage. Around 80% of the sites currently have redundant transport, leaving 20% of sites that don't. To support those sites, the team has been testing new satellite technology that provides redundant transport to not just one, but multiple sites. Southern Linc currently uses two satellite vendors that can support one site per satellite dish. McIntyre says having multiple satellite vendors offers a layer of "satellite vendor redundancy, if you will." The technology and our remote team proved effective during bad storms over Easter Sunday this year.
The Potential of Narrowband IoT – The Internet of Things, or IoT, is the concept of connecting any device with an on/off switch to the internet. Think washing machines, streetlights, and sensors. Cheaper and more efficient than a full-blown LTE chipset, Narrowband IoT transmits small amounts of data to an LTE network. McIntyre explains, "Georgia Power has hundreds of thousands of streetlights. When you factor in the cost of the chip, that becomes real savings spread out over hundreds of thousands of devices." The team is looking into this technology for lighting, metering, and other use cases that were not previously feasible due to price and availability of chips. McIntyre explains that Narrowband IoT will have its own subset of the LTE spectrum and will not impact LTE capacity for other devices.
In a volatile year, we are excited to have so many promising initiatives in the pipeline that can enhance our product and service offerings for customers.
Southern Linc has long taken pride in offering the world's most rugged smartphones to workers in demanding and hazardous environments.
Now, we are ecstatic to add a cutting-edge smartphone to our offerings that delivers mission critical reliability at the speed of today's business.
The Samsung Galaxy s10e offers next-generation mobile productivity, performance and security in the palm of your hand–ideal for busy working professionals who need a streamlined smartphone that helps them stay connected and productive from virtually anywhere.
"We're always going to have the need to have a ruggedized phone for a large number of uses," said Ritesh Desai, Product Engineering Manager for Southern Linc. "But we also recognize that a significant number of users would prefer a more streamlined phone like Samsung offers today."
With the Samsung Galaxy S10e smartphone certified on the CriticalLinc™ network, Southern Linc has an opportunity to expand its user base and meet the needs of more customers by giving them another device option.
"We partner not only with Samsung but with a consortium called ACG which allows us to partner with the larger device vendors. We opted for a single vendor to start off with and we chose Samsung largely because they are the biggest in the industry with the largest portfolio of devices."
Additional Samsung phones are planned to be debuted on the CriticalLinc™ network later this year, providing customers with a broader range of features and price points.
It kind of looks like a hockey puck–at least that's how David Keith, Director of Marketing and Sales for Southern Linc, described it.
"A lot of people put it in their pocket or in their briefcase," Keith said. "You can set it on a desk. Anywhere you go, you're going to be wireless."
What is it? A mobile hotspot–a simple, affordable mobile device that connects you to CriticalLinc™ data and offers eight hours of battery life and 20 hours of standby battery life.
"Think of it as a device you can take on the road that can provide instant internet access to any wirelessly enabled device, even in areas where you might not have a lot of broadband coverage. You can connect up to 15 devices under a single mobile hotspot."
Southern Linc customers can easily connect their laptops to a mobile hotspot. They simply need to turn the device on, search Wi-Fi options, find the unique identity for the device, complete a password authentication, and instantly access CriticalLinc™, our mission critical LTE network.
Keith said that law enforcement officers currently on the CriticalLinc™ network sometimes need this device, as they may on occasion use electronic devices that are not yet certified on the network. A good example would be a Samsung Tablet that has not yet been certified. Using the mobile hotspot is one way to access the CriticalLinc™ network on the device.
"And then remote learning. Teachers and schools in a lot of broadband-challenged areas don't have access to internet services. A mobile hotspot is a way to connect your home tablet and use it for a remote learning session," Keith said.
Indeed, community centers are taking this approach to connect up to 15 devices under a single device for remote learning. Of course, the Southern Linc network has great coverage in rural areas because they serves the first-responder community across Alabama and Georgia.
Other applications that are well suited for a mobile hotspot include remote medicine and state construction.
"We're discovering all kinds of new use cases for current customers and potential customers. We think there's a whole lot of potential with this."
Customers pay a one-time charge for Southern Linc's mobile hotspot and then pay for monthly data service. Southern Linc's mobile hotspot from Franklin Wireless is now available for purchase at all Southern Linc Sales offices and through our dealer network.
Southern Linc believes that a rigorous certification process for new wireless data products is critical to our success. It allows us to evaluate how new devices will perform on the network, how the signal will traverse to other cell towers, and how the SIM card will operate under various conditions.
Mobile devices, laptops, routers in vehicles, and other "non-fixed" devices must be able to roam seamlessly with partner carriers. Fixed devices must meet certain criteria for standard operations, updates, and data transfers.
"New device certification really comes down to the internal chipset each device uses," says Brian Lee, Product Engineering Manager at Southern Linc. "Last year, we certified three new modules. That was very fruitful for us."
How fruitful? Lee explains that original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) have adapted to the certification process and now use common modules across their product sets. So, one certified module means that a variety of their products are certified. For example, certification of the Sierra Wireless 7511 module meant that all Panasonic laptops were certified, or recertified.
"Everything starts with the module," Lee explains. "OEMs typically pick modules that are going to fit their needs the best. To stay ahead of their deveolpment, we certify modules we know will be leveraged in the marketplace."
Southern Linc has recently certified a number of new wireless data devices–the Rocket IoT by Utility, a mobile device deployed for vehicle area networks; the Cradlepoint IBR900 routers with embedded Telit modules; a Panasonic FZ55 laptop; the Sierra Wireless Airlink RV55 router; and the new GE Orbit router. And, we recertified a mobile hotspot device from Franklin Wireless.
The Rocket IoT router offers body camera capabilities for police officers. Video footage can be downloaded via Wi-Fi when an officer returns to the station. Dispatchers also use AVail Web as a vehicle location system.
Lee anticipates that hundreds of thousands of Narrowband IoT sensors will be deployed on the network as use cases mature. This technology could be integral in developing "smart cities" down the road. Applications include network lighting controls, electrical metering, vehicle diagnostics, medical monitoring, temperature sensors and much more. As they say, the applications are truly endless.