Proving the Business Case for the Internet of Things

Kerlink deploys LoRaWan to check on Mount Etna volcano

Steve Rogerson
March 5, 2020

In a novel example of the broad applications of LoRaWan IoT connectivity, Kerlink’s Wirnet gateway is powering a radon-sensing project on Europe’s most active volcano, Mount Etna.
The recently deployed network linking Mount Etna on the east coast of Sicily to scientists in Clermont-Ferrand, France, 1200km away, transmits radon measurement data, which help scientists monitor activity of the volcano. Radon is a natural radioactive element found in high concentrations near volcanoes and uranium deposits and is one of the potential precursors of volcanic eruptions.
For many years, scientists have measured radon in the soil of the 3.3km-high Etna, which required on-site visits. A system of autonomous radon sensors, designed and deployed by French scientists in Clermont-Ferrand and supported by the LoRaWan, remotely and continuously measures radon in plumes of volcanic gas. The system also allows measuring radon emissions near the top of the volcano, an area that was out of reach for soil samples in the winter.
The Wirnet station at the Etna site collects data from LoRaWan nodes, which are connected to radon and meteorological sensors, and transmits the information via its embedded 3G backhaul to the LoRa server at Clermont-Ferrand in the French National Institute of Nuclear & Particle Physics, where scientists analyse the data.
“The radon sensors that send their data in near-real time, year-round, to the LoRaWan server in Clermont-Ferrand give volcanologists an unprecedented picture of what is happening at Etna,” said Laurent Royer of Laboratoire de Physique de Clermont.
This lab is a joint research unit of Clermont-Auvergne University (UCA), and the French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS), which support the Etna project.
“This project not only highlights the diverse and vital concrete use cases enabled by LoRaWans, but also Kerlink’s position as a leading supplier of robust, high-performing gateways for those use cases,” said Stéphane Dejean, Kerlink chief marketing officer. “Wirnet gateways are enabling and powering multiple IoT projects in some of the most challenging and demanding environments on Earth. Our teams are very proud to be able to contribute to this type of scientific research-and-prevention project.”
The volcanic research project received funding from the I-Site Clermont Cap 20-25 project and the European Regional Development Fund (FEDER), in partnership with the Italian Institute for Geophysics & Volcanology (INGV).
Kerlink has also been working in a United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) pilot programme for reservoir monitoring in Uganda and Iraq, which incorporates Kerlink’s LoRaWan gateway technology.
The effectiveness of the sensor-to-cloud monitoring programmes in remote locations is resulting in near-term expansion to eight additional installations in Africa and Asia, and officials see a multitude of potential applications for IoT-based wireless sensor networks going forward.
The UNHCR, the UN’s refugee agency, is charged with providing water to millions of people worldwide, often with daunting logistics. The Ugandan Arua Field effort, where the pilot monitoring programme was first implemented, provides daily water deliveries to as many as 470,000 refugees. The LoRaWan-enabled sensors installed at reservoirs starting in January 2019 enabled managers to monitor water levels in real time, providing unprecedented visibility into usage and resource management. They also provided a reliable source of coordinated payment information for some 630 rental tanker lorries that were hauling up to 6387 cubic metres of water daily when the emergency response began in 2015.
Data from the sensors designed by several companies travelled through an outdoor Wirnet station LoRaWan gateway, which provided essential connectivity with cloud databases and applications. UNHCR managers integrated the data into a dashboard that provided new levels of visibility into operations of this global programme.
UNHCR water, sanitation and hygiene officer Ryan Schweitzer noted that the IoT made it both easy and cost-effective to roll out a static water-level monitoring system. The agency hopes to use it globally as a basis-of-payment system for water-trucking operations, which in Uganda are as high as $15m per month.
“The LoRaWsn IoT technology is mature, extremely cost effective and scalable,” he said. “The static reservoir-monitoring technology works extremely well.”
Schweitzer added that the approach had broad potential for all sectors of humanitarian services, including monitoring of groundwater, water-supply systems, water quality, waste collection and air quality. He described it as a “possible game-changer for monitoring in refugee settings”, noting that the ability to document delivery of safe, potable water to refugees at all times is a “holy grail”-type of technology for UNHCR water and hygiene efforts.
Next steps include replication of the pilot systems at other locations in Uganda and Iraq, as well as Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Bangladesh.
“This unique and vital use case underscores the humanitarian benefits that the IoT can support,” said Dejean. “Because the UNHCR sensor-to-gateway-to-platform system provides critical life support for large numbers of people, there’s a very high need for trustworthiness and reliability. At the same time, the projects’ remote location and minimal staffing also demanded a true carrier-grade solution with quick, easy integration and deployment, and secure and straightforward administration. We’re gratified by our Wirnet station’s performance under harsh conditions, and honoured to work with UNHCR. Their work reflects our values and commitments towards society and the environment, and we look forward to continuing to provide expertise on the next round of projects.”