Getting wired in Wellington North; new technology is on the way

It is time Wellington North takes the next step towards wireless communications.

Manager of Public Works Gary Williamson and Ken Frey, of Frey Communications, were at council on March 22, providing explanations for upgrad­es to the communications systems used by the municipality.

Mayor Mike Broomhead said there were a number of questions and council wants information. He said each committee involved in the new system has had discussions of its impact during budget talks and he noted the updates are included in the 2010 budget.

Williamson offered to provide the “layman’s version” while Frey could offer more technical details. Williamson also offered a bit of history, as well.

He explained Wightman Communications decided to come into Mount Forest and, “We were able to negotiate a deal to have fibre optics supplied to all the municipal sites within Mount Forest. In the process of discussing communications, we had discussions with Wellington North Power.”

He said most people “have heard about the smart meters that are coming online – whether we want them or not, in order for them to do their readings electronically, they needed a better radio communication from Mount Forest to Arthur to pick up that smart metre information.”

From a municipal point of view, Williamson said the township has two SCADA (supervisory control and data acquisition) systems, which monitor, control and raise an alarm for the municipal water and wastewater treatment facilities from a central location.

The SCADA?in Arthur and Mount Forest currently run independently of each other.

“That causes us issues in terms of data collection,” said Williamson. “The system takes a reading every second to half second.”

Williamson added when the Ministry of the Environment inspects those systems every year, “That is the data they are looking for. They have to have all that information, which is collected electronically. They don’t allow you to do it manually any more.”

He added that currently, “If there is an alarm, we have to respond in person, either to Mount Forest or Arthur.”

Williamson said the wireless system will allow a worker in Arthur to respond to an alarm in Mount Forest because it can be done through a laptop computer.

With the information collected, the worker can determine if it is a priority alarm, or something that can be handled the next day.

One of the other issues is collecting the data. Williamson noted that a few years ago there was a break-in at the Ar­thur water treatment plant and the whole computer system was taken – including the SCADA.

“That caused us major issues with the MOE,” he said, adding questions were raised as to why there was no back-up system in place.

“This system will allow that backup.”

Williamson added the other issue since amalgamation is the contact response time between the Kenilworth office and the Arthur arena has been terribly slow. That affects the booking of halls and facilities.

With Wellington North Power considering smart met­ers, plus the issues the township had, plus issues with the township’s existing service provid­er, he said it was time to look at another service provid­er.

“We were able to negotiate a deal where the tower installed at the Kenilworth administration office, will increase the capacity of wireless communication between Mount Forest and Arthur.

The other item to come online within the next five years, suggested Williamson, is the computerization of all the works yards in the township.

That includes GPS?tracking for township equipment, which Williamson said addresses liability issues in being able to prove, for example, when and where a road or sidewalk was sanded.

“For GPS?tracking, you need wireless to download the information from the equipment and send it to one source. The more we looked into it and the issues we were able to address, it made sense to create a backbone both the township and Wellington North Power could use.

“If we could do it in a joint venture it would cost a lot less money for both parties,” William­son added.

He said a price proposed by the township’s previous supplier “was pretty scary.”

Williamson said the proposal will set up the township with a state-of-the-art system for the next 10 years.

He estimated the joint venture will allow the township dispense with a few of the internet connections it has now, and also eliminate the need for internet connections for the works yards in the future.

He said the backbone of the system would involve the tow­er in Kenilworth and the water towers in Mount Forest and Arthur.

Information from each of those communities would be directed to the local tower and relayed back to Kenilworth.

“I’m not sure we’ve even realized all the potential it may have for us,” Williamson said.

Frey explained traditionally municipalities would not have that type of setup.

“It is a once-in-a-lifetime deal,” he said referring to the fibre optic connections to the municipal facilities in Mount Forest. There was no way to get that information back to the Kenilworth offices.

He said the most efficient way is doing it via a wireless network.

He added that people in Kenilworth would also be able to access the wireless system through Packetworks.

He said that because Arthur is not served by a fibre optic system, it needs to employ wireless links from each location back to the tower.

“But all the signals operate as if they were in a private building.”

He said the system will be private, and employs a military grade encryption for security.

“It’s reliable, safe, and will operate on a licenced frequency – which means no interference from personal routers, and the township will own that frequency. The benefits down the road are endless.”

It can be used to run cameras, telephone systems, and potentially a fire call linking system.

Councillor John Matusinec asked about the potential of atmospheric inference, such as lightning on communications.

“On a licenced frequency, it should not [happen],” Frey said.

Councillor Ross Chaulk said he had not heard anything about links to the Damascus works yard.

Frey said it is an option for later.

Williamson said the Kenil­worth tower is capable of an add-on dish pointed at the Dam­ascus area.

There would also need to be a tower or pole at that building to tie into the system.

However, that would not likely happen until such time as the computers are placed into the works yard at that location.

He said the current wireless system in Arthur is nearing the end of its life expectancy.

Williamson said the wireless system will be in place this year, with different connections coming online as time and budgets permit.

The proposed wireless system would create network in­frastructure that will allow the Township to adopt high-tech technologies that have been out of reach due to lack of network infrastructure.