As a product review, two-way radios seem a bit off-topic, but the right product came across my path, and I thought: “I could just as well write about it. My audience would be interested in it. Hand radios are being used on many farms, and I am not sure everybody knows about the newer technology that is available.”
PTT over Cellular Network (PoC) explained
Two-way radios with PPT (Press-to-talk) over cellular technology is simply two-way radios working with cellular data sim cards.
This technology is not going to increase your farm’s production yield or product quality. However, it will make securing your product and improving your production team’s communication a lot easier for the same price at which you would have spent on old technology.
Security remains one of the biggest concerns for South African farmers. The safety of farmers and their workers, as well as anti-theft campaigns, could be improved significantly by using PTT over cellular. Changing the existing two-way radios to use cellular technology achieves two-way communication on existing cellular network infrastructure, significantly reducing the limits on geographical coverage.
The main difference between a regular cellular call and a PTT call is that users connect faster due to the one on one relationship that gets configured by the service provider. Multiple parties could be included in a conversation like professional radio usage.
The disadvantage of PoC technology is that it relies on the cellular networks. It would therefore only be an option on farms with good cellular coverage. Having Wi-Fi points and signal boosters on different points on a farm would assist with this problem.
PoC allows for tracking of the radios on Maps by using cell phone network triangulation and GPS. Combined with the dispatcher software this is a powerful tool for security management.
Newer technology and South African software and servers have made the use of PoC much more reliable as users can now access the dispatcher software from any internet connection even cellular phones. Each radio has a panic button – when pressed the radio signals the control room and starts recording. The control room can listen in to what is happening to respond appropriately, and the recording is available for legal purposes if required.
The specific supplier that I interviewed is Marthinus Coetzee from iPTT Africa. Based in Gauteng they supply throughout South Africa and Africa. They have successfully tested globally from China to Togo. iPTT Africa offers a service that supplies the radios as well as the internet based dispatcher software.
Different groups can be set up on different channels, for example, a security group and supervisor group, allowing for up to 16 groups. The group and radio information get programmed over the air, so there is no need to bring the radio into the office.
The dispatcher software also offers geo-fencing, alerting the control room when a radio leaves a site. The control room can also monitor the route, speed and location of vehicles. The iPTT data system roams seamlessly across cellular networks offering continental coverage, GPS tracking, voice dispatch and call recording. All this information is stored on the iPTT servers for at least three months, allowing for easy retrieval.
The software is ideal for all control rooms that need to be in contact 24/7 with their staff and sites. Unlike conventional two-way radios, iPTT radios are not limited in coverage geographically and need no repeaters and base stations.
iPTT Africa also has an app (available on the Google Play store), which allows for a smartphone to be part of the two-way network on the farm. The app must be open in the background of the phone for it to work. Calls can be made from the software on a computer as well.
Tracking recordings provided by iPTT Africa comes in the form of video footage of the movement of a specific radio on a map.
Cost Analysis of PoC Technology
The hardware cost ranges between R1 800 and R2 500 per hand radio and a bit more for the base station radio depending on the brand of radio chosen. iPTT Africa prefers Kirisun and supplies three models: the iTalk 200, iTalk 220 and iTalk 450:
The iTalk 220 has a keypad and would typically be carried by a supervisor that needs to make calls to individual guards that carries the iTalk 200. The iTalk 450 would be used in a vehicle or a control room. The control room could also use a computer with a large screen, microphone and speakers together with the iTalk web application
iPTT Africa currently charges R165 per radio per month for unlimited talk time, national coverage and dispatcher software.
An additional R130 adds guard patrol, which means an SMS gets send to the server at specific GPS points and every morning the client receives his reports via email.
The iPTT Africa phone app costs R100 per month but uses your own data.
Marthinus helps his clients to set up the software, trains them and provides support on the software if the client struggles with changes later.
Recordings can be retrieved from the system when needed.
Multiple security companies in South Africa, make use of PoC radio technology from the iPTT Africa platform. Various companies have a shared channel that is used in a community effort to prevent crime.
Nationally the community watch has had successes in catching criminals after robberies by coordinating the GPS locations of all the radio units of the different security companies on a shared map. By communicating with the larger group, the criminals can be trapped successfully.
Another case study includes agricultural suppliers in the Grabouw area. By using iPTT Africa Radios they seamlessly report back to their offices on soil monsters, fertilizer and seed orders when visiting farms.
What says the Rural Meerkat burrow-meter?
This technology does not rate high on the Rural Meerkat burrow-meter because it will only affect an increase in product yield as far as it stops theft of the product.
In spite thereof, the technology has many additional benefits above the old technology which includes:
- improved geographical coverage;
- recording of conversations for later use;
- software showing GPS locations and tracking of movements of the radios;
- panic button functionality;
- recorded tracking functionality.
For a rather small investment, PoC gives much value above the older technology.