For utility companies covering everything from urban centers to rural and even far-flung remote areas, maintaining reliable connectivity with their mobile workforce is essential in order to deliver high-quality service to its customers.
Depending on the area, relying on 3G/4G cellular communications alone can mean hours of lost productivity and costly downtime due to congested, limited or no cell site coverage. Utility crews attending to routine business in sparsely populated areas or trying to restore service in areas damaged by natural disasters, may have no 3G/4G access at all, or commonly have to drive miles to higher ground in search of adequate reception.
But measuring the quality of cellular coverage across diverse territories and with possibly multiple providers is challenging enough, let along figuring out how to end up with ubiquitous, high-quality connectivity. Recognizing it can’t manage what it can’t measure, while accepting cellular’s coverage and reliability limitations, a West Coast utility company turned to Hughes for a comprehensive, IP mobile data satellite solution to keep its workforce in constant communication. The results were impressive—improved productivity and asset utilization, while elevating overall worker safety. Covering thousands of square miles with widely varied terrain and population densities, the utility’s service area has a challenging landscape. Cell data coverage varies outside heavily developed areas, and even in less developed areas, cellular networks experience overloading during peak times as consumers demand fast speeds and increased data consumption to Blackberrys and iPhones for real-time access to email, sports, news, weather, Facebook, and more. In most areas, customers experience intermittent cellular service from mid-afternoon until early evening. Cellular data networks will not prioritize traffic, so even companies willing to pay for priority during heavy usage periods remain subject to unpredictable network availability.
The utility company had used a satellite communications system for years to keep its workforce connected to the work order management system, however the antiquated store and forward technology was expensive and not IP-based, and overall too inefficient to keep pace with advances in technology and customers’ developing requirements.
Switching to Hughes IP BGAN Satellite Solution
By comparison, with the Hughes BGAN solution, airtime costs under a penny per kilobyte while providing an on-demand, DSL-like, IP data service with optional RJ11 voice included for emergency calling. Drivers can remain in the comfort and safety of their heated or air conditioned vehicles while making satellite phone calls, which is a safer alternative when they are alone in a rural or remote area. The Hughes IP mobile BGAN terminal connects a driver’s laptop or handheld device in the service vehicle to the BGAN IP satellite network, which provides seamless workforce management coverage throughout the utility company’s service area. In-vehicle applications, such as NetMotion running on laptops, provide real-time access to work orders and related information from the host system. Constant access via the Hughes BGAN terminals enables crews to receive and close work orders more quickly, translating into more completed assignments per day. Continuous contact with field personnel enables fleet supervisors to schedule and assign new work orders more efficiently. With virtually no “wireless dead spots,” a truck is less likely to burn time and precious fuel driving around while waiting for the next assignment or being in-route to a call that has been cancelled or rescheduled.
The utility company continues to use a combination of cellular and satellite data to keep in touch with its field crews. Intelligent routing inside the laptops automatically selects between cellular and Hughes BGAN satellite service. The Hughes BGAN option, however, is both inexpensive for the satellite airtime and reliable enough to serve as the primary communication system during periods of disaster and service restoration, especially now that cellular carriers are throttling back unlimited network usage, raising the prospect of higher operating expenses for field service organizations.
The Hughes IP mobile BGAN solution has met or exceeded all expectations surrounding performance and cost, producing a tangible ROI, while improving worker safety.