FreeWave Technologies Provides UHF Video Streams, Manages Volcano Conditions

By Claire Swedberg

The company has expanded its RF-based solutions to include the transmission of video via UHF signals and solutions for monitoring fault lines and volcanic conditions in some of the most remote parts of the world.

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Internet of Things (IoT) technologies are extending their reach beyond indoor building automation, health-care facilities and assembly plants (among many other applications) to tracking conditions at remote oil facilities, urban or rural fault lines, and the tops of volcanic mountains. Colorado-based FreeWave Technologies offers IoT-based systems that go beyond the four walls of a building—and in some cases, the data being collected is a matter of life or death. These are the use cases for the IoT that can be most challenging.

FreeWave Technologies’ serial radio solutions capture and transmit data intended to help engineers understand activities and conditions in places too remote for wired sensor management, and often beyond the reach of Wi-Fi or cellular networks. Its RF-based networks are used, for instance, to monitor volcanoes and earthquakes in places where people could be in harm’s way. Sensor data, captured from underground or surface areas, can then prompt alerts that give people an opportunity to evacuate.

FreeWave Technologies’ Scott Allen

Security surveillance in remote, outdoor locations is another use case FreeWave aims to address. The company’s IoT solutions are not limited to sensor data and identifiers; this year, the company has begun testing a system that sends video streams via an active 900 MHz transmission as part of a full video technology solution known as vWatch, provided by remote surveillance company McQ. In addition, FreeWave has found a way to capture video streams from digital cameras that can enable the viewing of events such as the flow of mud.

FreeWave was launched in 1993 to provide ruggedized, industrial wireless networking solutions in which machines and sensors transmit and share data. The company’s market traditionally involved industrial sites, as well as oil and gas, waste water treatment and agriculture companies, says Scott Allen, FreeWave Technologies’ chief marketing officer, and it also served military and defense systems on the ground, on water and in the air.

Some of those systems are used for reconnaissance, bomb disposal and environmental control and monitoring for governments around the world. The company uses sensors from partners and provides its own RF-based hardware and related software via UHF, as well as other frequencies. More recently, with the expansion of the IoT networks and the proliferation of sensors, the firm has been growing into environmental control and monitoring platforms beyond governments and industrial settings.

The company most recently has developed a solution that enables users to collect and transmit video via a UHF 900 MHz transceiver. In some cases, Allen says, companies or agencies want to access visual information regarding what is taking place at a remote location, such as at a gate to a facility, at all hours of the day or night. Recording data and sending it via a Wi-Fi connection is not always possible, he notes, because there may be no Wi-Fi network available.

Microwave transmissions are possible but require more power than many are prepared to install onsite, Allen says—and that left RF transmissions. FreeWave, he notes, has experimented with sending transmissions via 433 MHz and 2.4 GHz, but found that the 900 MHz UHF bandwidth worked well. “To our knowledge,” Allen states, “this is the first industrial video streaming solution over 900 MHz.”

Earlier this year, FreeWave began working with McQ, a Fredericksburg, Va., remote surveillance company that is providing its monitoring system, leveraging FreeWave’s ZumLink Z9-PE radio transmitters for the video transmission solution. The transmitters can connect to any IP camera and then forward data to a receiver at long range over the 900 MHz active UHF frequency, at a rate of about 1 megabit per second using power from a solar panel.

The security surveillance video transmission system is now being tested by the U.S. government for border surveillance, Allen says, but is also of interest to customers such as oil and gas producers, for use in monitoring their oil well pads, tanks and facilities. Oil theft, he explains, is a significant problem in many countries, and monitoring remote tanks in real time can be almost impossible. “It’s very difficult for them to understand how much is being taken,” Allen says, let alone who is perpetrating the crime or when it is taking place.

The video transmission system can also work with sensors, Allen adds. “We provide the radio communication network,” he says, “but some sensors can be used as well,” such as units that measure whether a hatch on a tank is open or closed. That sensor data could then trigger the transmission of video streams.

The FreeWave technology also provides environmental monitoring. Its technology is installed in the Tungurahua—the highest active volcano in the world—for the Institute of Geophysics of Ecuador to capture any early-warning signs that an eruption is imminent. The volcano is surrounded by hundreds of thousands of residents, so capturing the data early could enable an evacuation before an eruption can take place.

The Geophysical Institute of Peru is similarly using the technology to monitor conditions with FreeWave’s ZumLink 900 Series 900 MHz radios. The Z9-PE radios capture sensor data from Trimble REF TEK 130 broadband seismic sensors via Ethernet connections, then transmit that data via UHF on a point-to-point link at a distance of up to 67 kilometers at a data rate of 1 Mbps, or up to 127 kilometers at a data rate of 115 kbps.

The transmitters can be connected around an area of fault lines to detect seismic activity and forward that data to a server, either by Wi-Fi, cellular or LTE networks. FreeWave’s ZumIQ software captures the data and can prompt a response based on sensor data—for instance, sending an alert to the nearest city when it detects movement at a fault line. The US Geological Survey (USGS), one of FreeWave’s customers, uses the data to better understand activity in remote areas.

On New Hampshire’s Mount Washington Regional Mesonet, the Mount Washington Observatory (MWO) is employing FreeWave’s technology to capture data from six weather stations. These stations—which provide data both for MWO’s climate research, and for the New Hampshire State Park (NHSP), U.S. Forest Service Snow Rangers and New Hampshire Fish and Game Department—needed wireless connectivity to understand weather conditions in the high-elevation (more than 6,000 feet) area, in real time. MWO deployed FreeWave’s FGR2 900 MHz transmitters that forwarded sensor data, such as temperature and wind speeds, to an Ethernet-connected gateway.