Murray Irrigation is the largest private irrigation company in Australia. It was formed in March 1995 when the New South Wales (NSW) Government privatised its Murray Irrigation Area and districts.
Today, it delivers high quality irrigation water to over 2,300 landholdings in southern NSW. This incorporates 748,000ha stretching along the NSW side of the Murray River from Mulwala in the east to Moulamein in the west. It is part of the Riverina floodplain, lying between the Billabong Creek in the north and the Murray River in the south. It also supplies water to four towns: Berrigan, Finley, Wakool and Bunnaloo.
The water is supplied through 2,939km of energy efficient, gravity-fed, earthen channels. Regional drainage services are also provided to approximately one-third of this area, with 1,425km of storm water escape channels.
The need for IP
Network communication forms a key part of Murray Irrigation’s ongoing plans to improve its water irrigation services to customers. Crucially, the company wanted to enhance radio services, yet retain ownership of its communications therefore maintaining full network control.
Central to its investment in service enhancement is the additional outlay in Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) and telemetry to provide the hardware essential for shifting from a manually controlled system to remote control and selected automation.
In 2008, Murray Irrigation rolled out a comprehensive SCADA IP network to support its future development plans and site automation. On the back of the network, the company required a communications solution that would be IP-based and deliver full site communication coverage for employees that work along the 7,480 sq km of supply channels for water distribution and maintenance.
The existing series of independent radio systems were deemed old and unreliable with numerous ‘black spots’ that forced the fleet of over 85 field staff to use their mobile phones.
However, they too were unpredictable because GSM coverage was poor in many areas.
This created significant workplace, health and safety risks – especially as there are often lone workers on site. Murray Irrigation needed to install a system that met the agriculture industry’s strict duty of care obligations, and was proven to be reliable, consistent and easy-to-use.
Added to this, maintenance of the existing radio systems was expensive, costing thousands of dollars per month, and the fact that staff had no choice but to
use mobile phones created more unnecessary costs. Furthermore, the legacy radio system was not interconnected, so sites operated as silos as opposed to one large-scale network. This consequently posed some significant operational restrictions.
To address the limitations of the existing communications network, Murray Irrigation began to evaluate solutions for an IP-based, interconnected radio network which would offer flexibility.
An interconnected radio solution
Simoco channel partner, Tekace Communications, which delivers telecommunications services to businesses across the region, partnered with Simoco to develop an interconnected radio solution for Murray Irrigation.
The consortium gradually upgraded the company to a fully interlinked network, with staged migration where sites operated in basic conventional modes before being upgraded to full trunking systems as the migration neared completion.
Tekace implemented Simoco’s advanced Xfin Multisite technology, which perfectly complemented Murray Irrigation’s SCADA network investment. With its unique IP multi-site connectivity, Simoco’s Xfin trunked solution allowed site-wide communications between four sites – Wakool, Tantonan, Sandridge and Ryans Hill.
Three base stations operated at each of the sites and over 100 SRM9000 mobile radios with SRM9022 control heads were active daily on the network.
It was these specific requirements to deliver an integrated communications system that led Murray Irrigation to choose to deploy the Xfin technology. The company found that Simoco’s IP-based solution could simply embed itself into the existing SCADA IP network.
Furthermore, it proved to be the most cost-effective solution to improve site operations and increase safety levels on sites, as well as deliver impressive coverage for such a wide area deployment.
Finally, Tekace installed a simple telephone interconnection and POTS (Plain Old Telephone Service), which is likely to develop into a more elaborate system in the future as Murray Irrigation’s needs develop. This allows radio users to make and receive telephone calls through a landline, avoiding costly mobile phone calls and GSM service blackspots.
Results with ROI
Murray Irrigation’s need for a communications solution capable of delivering resilient, IP-based voice and data communications has been made possible thanks to Xfin.
Now fully operational, the new Xfin trunked network offers users considerable performance improvements including full-site radio coverage, greater overall system resilience and telephone interconnection, drawing from its IP-based architecture and innovative design.
The Xfin technology is used for day-to-day operations, for both group and individual calls and telephones, enabling users to report maintenance issues, check in daily and co-ordinate channel repair work.
Staff are given seamless radio coverage over the sites they work on, and their radios instantly connect to the nearest site – an important factor for Murray Irrigation as staff often travel between sites. Furthermore, the system gives each user the simplicity of being able to access the telephone through their radio.
Financial benefits have been reported too. The company’s investment for an Xfin system to upgrade its own communications infrastructure has already been paid back in a short time.
Since the final system’s deployment in mid-2013, Murray Irrigation has started making plans to set up the technology on another site. It is also now considering incorporating Simoco’s Advanced Mobile Suite (SAMS) vehicle and personal tracking solution to track its fleet across the network.