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TAHMO Case Study

The Trans-African Hydro-Meteorological Observatory

The IoT infiltrated businesses in the western world nearly two decades ago, and is rapidly ascending to dominance in the BRIC economies of Asia and South America. However, the opportunities of the IoT are vast, unrestricted, and still largely focused on the huge benefits to industry, enterprise and consumers alike.

But the Internet of Things is not simply a panacea for business development; the open-source foundation of many IoT technologies requires an all-encompassing approach, as exemplified in the many deserving use cases that fall outside traditional business sectors.

The Application: Documenting African Weather Systems for the Greater Good

A large percentage of the population of Africa suffer from a lack of food, one in four people in sub-saharan Africa is undernourished, the highest incidence in the world at present, and the Horn of Africa in particular has been devastated by drought every year for the past 12 years. A lack of climatic information across this vast and diverse continent makes it difficult to plan a cropping strategy which would go some way to remedying the chronic hunger.

The Trans-African Hydro-Meteorological Observatory (TAHMO) is an application that recognizes the great humanitarian and scientific potential of the IoT to remedy this situation. Partnered with Oregon State University and the Delft University of Technology, the organisation aims to create a socially driven network of 20,000 connected weather monitoring stations every 30 km across the continent, to accurately measure previously undocumented weather systems, and leapfrog Africa to one of the best monitored continents in the world.

Using a combination of weather pattern data and predictive computer models gathered by TAHMO, farmers can more efficiently plan their crop cycles, in turn allowing them to make full use of the water available to them (improving water productivity by up to 26%) and plant more crops, with the risk of failure due to drought or flooding severely diminished.

These MEM weather stations, designed in conjunction with The Meter Group, have MEM Weather Stationbeen developed with special attention to African conditions, and include a wind turbine on the bottom, a solar panel on the side and a rain collector on top. They have no moving parts, which greatly reduces the maintenance burden, and the stations have been optimised in terms of measurement quality and price to make them truly practicable for every location.

The ease-of-use of these weather stations is paramount, as TAHMO’s School 2 School programme helps to implement these stations in schools around the world, simultaneously keeping the stations safe from tampering and educating children in the local community and those in partnered schools. By interacting with this data (sometimes using computers funded by sister schools in the USA or Europe), children learn about the importance of weather systems, and how sensor technologies can enhance their lives and those around them for generations to come.

The Requirement: Remote, robust, and reliable IoT connectivity

Collecting data from across an entire continent, from 20,000 separate sources each 30 km apart irrespective of existing infrastructure or urban environments, is not a simple undertaking. As TAHMO’s high-quality data will also be available to governments and national agencies, they need a reliable connectivity solution that can keep each of these stations online under all conditions.

TAHMO had issues with currently-available sensors (including fragility when faced with the African environment, high cost, and a focus on the wrong variables), and so ran a sensor design competition alongside African universities to design a purpose-built sensor ready to integrate with a connectivity solution customised to their requirements.

TAHMO’s requirements for transmitting climate data across a huge distance, from different countries and in an extremely patchy coverage environment made their selection process even more difficult, as many multi-network solutions are not able to transmit data efficiently across borders, and many operators are simply not present in the areas of Africa that will benefit from TAHMO’s system. After exploring the market of IoT connectivity providers, Rebecca Hochreutener, the TAHMO Operations Manager, found PodM2M’s speciality remote and mission-critical IoT SIM cards, and immediately recognised the advantages over typical M2M communications companies.

The Solution: Best Signal IoT SIM cards for the most reliable connection

Pod’s Best Signal Multi-Network SIMs connect to the best available signal on device start-up, and automatically switch networks in case of outage. This provided the TAHMO team with the resilient connectivity they need to measure weather systems across multiple countries without risk of losing valuable data along the way. Thanks to Pod’s coverage in 185+ countries and over 600 networksTAHMO had no problem collecting results from all the countries their devices are present in, and were assured of receiving the best possible coverage in Africa, as well as in US and European partner bases.

As TAHMO is an NGO working with International Public-Private Partnership (PPPs) to curate a continental-scale weather and climate observatory for the global research community, this level of coverage and resilience was necessary to maintain a reliable, consistent stream of data between various government and meteorological agencies. With the flexibility of PodM2M’s IoT data plans tailored to suit their needs, TAHMO can continuously generate valuable climate data and retain their international reputation in the face of changing network conditions.

Rebecca Hochreutener praised Pod’s stellar customer service, stating: ‘Although connectivity in Africa is not always simple, PodM2M has been able to provide reliable services and a very good and responsive support team.’

Pod’s international support team is on hand 24 hours a day, all year round, to take care of our customers, and can ensure that international, inter-continental IoT applications such as TAHMO can stay connected and supported wherever they are in the world.

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