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Powerco’s new radio technology boosts safety

Downer Electricity New Plymouth lines supervisor Brent Moratti uses Powerco’s new digital mobile radio while working in the field. PIC: Powerco.

The safety of fault crews working across Powerco’s vast electricity network has been greatly improved thanks to new voice radio technology.

In what is the largest, industry standard, private digital mobile radio network deployment in New Zealand, Powerco’s new communication system allows fault staff to be connected like never before.

“Powerco now has coverage in some remote parts of New Zealand that no other provider of mobile or radio has. We are set up for the future,” says Powerco network operations manager Phil Marsh.

“In the past, when we used the RT system that had a far smaller reach, we had fault staff needing to drive for half an hour to the top of the hill to get coverage so they could contact the control room.

“There were places in areas such as the Tararuas, Wairarapa and Rangitikei where they simply didn’t have any comms or cellphone coverage – losing all communication with the control room, which is dangerous, particularly in an emergency.

“Safety is a top priority for Powerco. We recognise the hazards that exist for our fault staff on such a large geographical area. This new technology provides a reliable way to communicate with them and for field staff to get help in an emergency,” says Phil.

With the push of the emergency button on their radios, Powerco knows the exact location of the radio. All consoles in the control room light up and that emergency call is given priority.

“With the old RT system, everybody was stuck in a queue waiting their turn to talk to the network controllers,” says Phil.

General Manager power and gas for Downer New Zealand, John Batchelor, says reliable radio coverage was important for the safety of Downer crews.

“Working with electricity, it is vital that we can quickly and reliably contact those controlling the electricity network if there is an emergency, without worrying about blackspots affecting radio coverage,” says John.

The multi-million-dollar voice radio system consists of new high-tech radios for field staff, which ‘talk to’ communication consoles at Powerco’s control room – or Network Operations Centre – based in New Plymouth.

Increased coverage range has been made possible with the construction of 35 new digital mobile radio base stations, added to existing sites throughout Powerco’s network area.

The project has also included upgrading communication huts and facilities, as well as installing batteries and generators at most repeater sites for reliability, resilience and security.  

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