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IoT becomes weapon to fight supply chain complexity

The Internet of Things is refining the capabilities of the supply chain to reduce theft, increase visibility and transform legacy complexity

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In January 2019, the MSC Zoe lost more than 375 cargo containers in the North Sea, some of which contained organic peroxides, hazardous materials with explosive capability. The cost of locating and retrieving the cargo, some of which had sunk to the depths of the ocean, was borne by MSC. The hunt was costly and time-consuming. 

In February 2019, the Safety and Shipping Review released a report that revealed the cost of around 230,000 insurance industry claims over the past five years had almost reached $10-billion. 

The international shipping industry is just one part of the complex supply chain whole with fraud, theft, human error and loss peppering statistics across country and industry.  The truth is that cargo theft has been around since the days of swashbuckling pirates and horseback bandits but today the supply chain has one weapon that can potentially save the cargo and costs – the Internet of Things (IoT).

This technology has the potential to provide organisations with critical insight into cargo movement throughout the supply chain by capturing data across every point of the cargo’s journey. The sensors used by IoT have not only become far more cost-effective, but they are equally adaptive and capable of handling variable conditions as they track containers across land, air, and sea. These sensors provide a level of visibility into the supply chain that has previously been only imagined and, with the evolution of the Sigfox network, the data provided by these sensors is about to become even more relevant.

“The Sigfox network allows for billions of devices to connect to the internet in real time, across vast distances,” says Chetan Goshalia, Chief Sales and Marketing Officer at SqwidNet. “Developed by SigFox, this global network overcomes some of the biggest barriers to IoT adoption within the supply chain – cost, global scalability, and energy consumption. This low-power network is capable of collating and sending data in short bursts to any location in the world, in real-time. This means that the data provided by the sensors within the supply chain can be analysed and tracked in real-time from almost any location.”

Access to a network of this capability can fundamentally shift the baseline of supply chain efficiency. In the past, data and insight were sporadic or reliant on connectivity provided by other systems or solutions. With the Sigfox network, there is an added layer of security in that the devices send their insights directly to the relevant source, but don’t receive data. The latter can be implemented in specific use cases but ultimately, the data delivered by the sensors within a tightly configured Sigfox network allows for operations to assess the status of any given shipment at any given time. The low power demands allow for consistent monitoring of cargo across vast distances and timelines, plus the constant network allows for regular, real-time insight into cargo status.

“The value in being able to determine a fault, loss or an error before it becomes a costly mistake or theft, is inordinate,” says Goshalia. “Consider the savings for organisations within the supply chain as well as the insurance companies that carry the cost of these losses within the supply chain?”

The ability to track temperature, location, speed, and geographical location, among many other data points, also allows for the organisation to micro-manage complex shipments and routes. Some of the world’s largest retail outlets juggle suppliers across variable distances and their own chains from global locations, so visibility into every step along the way can significantly reduce the ongoing complexities that pepper the process. Instead of a broken refrigeration unit discovered partway along the route, too late to salvage the contents, it can be caught early and the loss can potentially be mitigated. The same applies for lost cargo at sea – while IoT sensors can’t stop the weather, they can locate the cargo containers. The network can also be used to track particularly hazardous materials within a shipment of standard items to ensure that they are handled carefully and prioritised in a track and trace.

“Along with minimising the bottom-line costs for the business, the blend of IoT technology and the Sigfox network can fundamentally transform how the supply chain engages with its data,” says Goshalia. “The information gleaned across multiple shipments can locate bottlenecks, isolate areas of concern, improve yard efficiencies and so much more. It can also play a more than important role in ensuring that stores have stock and reputations remain intact.”

The harsh market reality is that the customer won’t care if the supply chain was attacked by a flurry of tornadoes or lost at sea. They want their products and they want them yesterday. While IoT isn’t the magic wand that can remove the impact of weather and unexpected loss, it can help the supply chain gain an incredibly detailed level of control over its products and services. This control can be used to streamline, transform and redefine efficiencies.

“SqwidNet is a long-standing partner of Sigfox and has brought low-cost access to innovative IoT solutions to the South African supply chain organisations for many years,” says Goshalia. “Sigfox is the provider of the world’s first Sigfox network that now covers more than one billion people, is the first to achieve full European coverage, and is built on open-source capabilities. This allows us to develop robust solutions that are relevant to the South African supply chain industry in capability, reach, and in cost.”

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SA’s Internet goes down again

South Africa is about to experience a small repeat of the lower speeds and loss of Internet connectivity suffered in January, thanks to a new undersea cable break, writes BRYAN TURNER

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Internet service provider Afrihost has notified customers that there are major outages across all South African Internet Service Providers (ISPs), as a result of a break in the WACS undersea cable between Portugal and England 

The cause of the cable break along the cable is unclear. it marks the second major breakage event along the West African Internet sea cables this year, and comes at the worst possible time: as South Africans grow heavily dependent on their Internet connections during the COVID-19 lockdown. 

As a result of the break, the use of international websites and services, which include VPNs (virtual private networks), may result in latency – decreased speeds and response times.  

WACS runs from Yzerfontein in the Western Cape, up the West Coast of Africa, and terminates in the United Kingdom. It makes a stop in Portugal before it reaches the UK, and the breakage is reportedly somewhere between these two countries. 

The cable is owned in portions by several companies, and the portion where the breakage has occurred belongs to Tata Communications. 

The alternate routes are:  

  • SAT3, which runs from Melkbosstrand also in the Western Cape, up the West Coast and terminates in Portugal and Spain. This cable runs nearly parallel to WACS and has less Internet capacity than WACS. 
  • ACE (Africa Coast to Europe), which also runs up the West Coast.  
  • The SEACOM cable runs from South Africa, up the East Coast of Africa, terminating in both London and Dubai.  
  • The EASSy cable also runs from South Africa, up the East Coast, terminating in Sudan, from where it connects to other cables. 

The routes most ISPs in South Africa use are WACS and SAT3, due to cost reasons. 

The impact will not be as severe as in January, though. All international traffic is being redirected via alternative cable routes. This may be a viable method for connecting users to the Internet but might not be suitable for latency-sensitive applications like International video conferencing. 

Read more about the first Internet connectivity breakage which happened on the same cable, earlier this year. 

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SA cellphones to be tracked to fight coronavirus

Several countries are tracking cellphones to understand who may have been exposed to coronavirus-infected people. South Africa is about to follow suit, writes BRYAN TURNER

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From Israel to South Korea, governments and cell networks have been implementing measures to trace the cellphones of coronavirus-infected citizens, and who they’ve been around. The mechanisms countries have used have varied.  

In Iran, citizens were encouraged to download an app that claimed to diagnose COVID-19 with a series of yes or no questions. The app also tracked real-time location with a very high level of accuracy, provided by the GPS sensor. 

In Germany, all cellphones on Deutsche Telekom are being tracked through cell tower connections, providing a much coarser location, but a less invasive method of tracking. The data is being handled by the Robert Koch Institute, the German version of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

In Taiwan, those quarantined at home are tracked via an “electronic fence”, which determines if users leave their homes.  

In South Africa, preparations have started to track cellphones based on cell tower connections. The choice of this method is understandable, as many South Africans may either feel an app is too intrusive to have installed, or may not have the data to install the app. This method also allows more cellphones, including basic feature phones, to be tracked. 

This means that users can be tracked on a fairly anonymised basis, because these locations can be accurate to about 2 square kilometers. Clearly, this method of tracking is not meant to monitor individual movements, but rather gain a sense of who’s been around which general area.  

This data could be used to find lockdown violators, if one considers that a phone connecting in Hillbrow for the first 11 days of lockdown, and then connecting in Morningside for the next 5, likely indicates a person has moved for an extended period of time. 

The distance between Hillbrow and Morningside is 17km. One would pass through several zones covered by different towers.

Communications minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams said that South African network providers have agreed to provide government with location data to help fight COVID-19. 

Details on how the data will be used, and what it will used to determine, are still unclear. 

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