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Since September 2000, Helsinki Energy has been using a professional Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) service in its field operations. The WAP service was developed by Helsinki Energy together with Nokia, Tekla and ABB. It gives real-time direct access to various customer and technical databases in only a few seconds. The system is based on the Xpower Network Information Management System which is manufactured by Tekla.

This is not the first time the Finnish energy company has taken on a pioneering role in telecommunications. The world’s first public call using Terrestrial Trunked Radio (Tetra) was made over Helsinki Energy’s HelenNet network in the fall of 1997. Tetra offered the company a way of combining voice and data transmissions in a single network, and WAP was the next step.

Helsinki Energy is the largest service company in Finland in the energy sector, encompassing electricity sales, energy generation and supply, district heating and power network operations. Its customers are primarily in the Helsinki metropolitan area, where over 90 per cent of the city’s structures are now served by district heating. Jouni Pesonen, head of telecommunications with Helsinki Energy, says that WAP technology has enabled the company and its partners to develop novel applications more quickly than would otherwise be possible.

“The browser approach gives us the opportunity to develop software quite rapidly because we can install it only at the server end,” says Pesonen.

Pesonen believes that WAP is particularly well suited to professional applications, because users will already know much of the context behind the information they request and they will search for it on the intranet.

“The system only needs to send the requested details,” he says. In terms of productivity, Pesonen is in no doubt that the Tetra network has improved matters. For example, a technician installing electricity meters used to spend up to an hour a day establishing communications with the office. “Instead of taking 20 minutes to communicate, it now takes 20 seconds,” says Pesonen. “With WAP, the information is just under your thumb.”

“Our goal is to make information from the company database available precisely where it is needed,” summarizes Pesonen. “Just like government bodies we need a secure network, separate from the public networks, where our line of communication will not be disrupted by faults elsewhere.”

Flexibility and efficiency

Moving data around is far more efficient than moving people around, according to Pesonen. With the power of the Tetra mobile radio network, Helsinki Energy aims to make information available wherever it is needed.

The versatility of WAP technology makes it simple to use one device; a hand portable mobile radio telephone equipped with a WAP browser, will set up connections with the network and can be used as a display on which the user can access information. This data is not only up to date, it can also be linked to relevant information from other sources. The system also allows for easy updating of the central database with operations and maintenance staff able to use Tetra phones to enter information about completed jobs.

Pesonen believes that improved information management results in jobs being carried out more promptly on the ground and allows for greater flexibility. “We have gigabytes of information about the distribution network in our database. Soon it will be possible to access this information where it is actually generated. Only having it available in an office divorces it from real life.”

Helsinki Energy uses a Tekla Xpower system, and Tekla has been a partner in the Tetra project since its inception. As the first solution for the WAP radio phone to be developed by Tekla, Tekla Xpower allowed staff in the field to access transformer and relay cabinet data relating to the distribution network, and thus it proved to be a valuable tool.

“Tekla immediately understood the importance of the browser service and they also have an open-minded approach to the future. Applications developed by Tekla not only suit our HelenNet network, they would be equally useful on other Tetra networks,” commented Pesonen.

Tekla’s senior consultant Pekka Hämäläinen emphasizes that mobility is a central theme in the Tekla family of products. “This WAP application for the Tetra network is just one of our mobile solutions – we also develop services for the GSM platform. We see a distinct advantage in the fact that WAP applications developed for Tetra can also be used on a GSM network. Mobility brings new kinds of requirements to the information systems like performance, scalability and fault tolerance.” Tekla’s answer to these strains is data engineering; initial data entry only once for several applications; no data engineering in steady state operation; database created as a byproduct in network planning; and construction and mapping (on-site measurements) phases.


Figure 1. Helsinki Energy has taken on a pioneering role in telecommunications with the use of WAP in the field
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The database is the most important part of the network information system. It has to support operation, maintenance, planning and building of the distribution network.

“One major factor that makes the Tekla system stand out is that it operates in real-time; so does our database service. Some of the data gathered by the Xpower database comes from electricity network measurements relayed by the Tetra network. As real-time information is continually being fed into the database, personnel out in the field always have the most up to date data available,” explains Hämäläinen.

One size fits all

Xpower is scalable from small organizations to large. There are no restrictions in the system on how large installations can be. Also the solution enables flexible building in the system based on the data communication possibilities with different offices within the company (centralized vs. decentralized system).

The biggest customer that has installed and is using the system is Hamburg with 900 000 customers, the smallest has about 2000. Both companies are using exactly same system, the same exe files, database structure etc.

Xpower is a comprehensive NIMS solution for cost effective management of resources and networks in distribution utilities. Due to better management of assets and operations, productivity and improved distribution quality, it provides utilities with added value and a competitive advantage.


Figure 2. WAP puts information at the user’s fingertips, wherever they are
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Tekla’s solutions follow a strategy in which a dynamic, real-time 4D model of the customer’s distribution network is built and stored in a uniform database on an open development platform, enabling distributed and wireless resource management. Tekla’s systems are compatible with major standard commercial platforms. Openness, modularity and flexibility are all key words in describing Tekla’s solutions.

Helsinki Energy now aims to widen the scale of the real-time distribution network data available through its radio network, and transmit this to mobile staff. The first real test will be when someone using a WAP device actually acts on information received on site, and is then able to give feedback on the actual situation and the accuracy of the data supplied.

The ideal communication tool

“WAP has recently been criticized for being in its infancy and too clumsy for consumer markets. For professionals on the other hand, WAP makes sense,” points out Pesonen.

“Packaged data transmission through the Tetra network means the link is always open and WAP technology puts information at the user’s fingertips. In contrast to the average consumer, the professional user needs specific information, he knows his environment and usually has previous knowledge of the situation. Perhaps that is one reason for the poor take-up of WAP services in the consumer market,” explains Pesonen.

He points out that WAP services cannot solve every communication problem faced by professionals. It is a practical technology that adds value in those clear-cut cases where information that can be displayed on the telephone suffices.

Integrated information

Xpower is an integrated network information system for electricity distribution companies. It provides a model-based solution with a strong focus on the ‘total lifecycle’ concept. It spans the entire range of energy company operations from documentation and graphic representation of electricity, street lighting and district heating networks through to real-time operation support and maintenance management.

Its core consists of a single relational database that stores the geographical and technical network data. Various Xpower applications then use this data combined with other data sources to perform tasks such as network calculations, techno-economical planning, maintenance and construction management and network operation support.

With Xpower, maintenance management and inspection strategies are easier to develop and implement efficiently. The system is designed for mastering the inspections, condition data and maintenance work orders of network components. Xpower can mangage unnamed components that are distributed over large areas, which separates it from traditional plant maintenance.

Maintenance personnel are able to stay connected up to the Xpower database through field computers. This speeds up routine maintenance and eliminates redundant administration work, reducing the risk of human error caused by separate data collection and input processes.

Xpower Tetra and other radio based communications can be used in:

  • Operations support through WAP, e.g. switching state query
  • Inspections support through WAP, queries and updates
  • Work crew tracking (AVLS)
  • Sending work orders and alarms to the field
  • Telemetry, intelligent wireless applications in substations or mobile units
  • Dispatching alarms and instructions to the field
  • Database queries though WAP
  • Mobile maintenance (MMS).

WAP over Tetra provides a new method of data communication for professionals. It enables real-time direct access to various customer and technical databases in only a few seconds. Service personnel working on-site for Helsinki Energy will be able to have easy access to a vast company database, making working in the field easier and more efficient. The HelenNet Tetra network is operated by Helsinki Energy.


Figure 3. WAP technology is particularly well-suited to professional applications
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Network components and the real-time information will be stored in Xpower. The WAP interface is easy to use and provides secure application protocols. With Nokia Tetra, WAP can be used on-line with the minimum of waiting time; this makes it possible to build new, easy to use applications.

Developments

Nokia has combined the versatility of WAP with the power of Tetra to introduce the world’s first WAP services for digital professional mobile radio users. The new WAP services have been developed in co-operation with Finnish companies Helsinki Energy and Tekla Corporation.

At this stage WAP applications on the Tetra network are used on WAP-enabled devices such as portable micro-computers.

Tetra Terrestrial Trunked Radio system is:

  • New standard for European radio communications
  • Defined by European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI)
  • Fully digital Professional Mobile Radio system
  • Provides a high degree of security and reliability
  • Supported my major manufacturers
  • Will bring a genuine multi-vendor market
  • Will be taken into use in most European countries.

Originally envisaged as an alternative network for government clients, Tetra has rapidly found its way into the commercial world. Compared to traditional mobile radio networks, the Tetra open digital mobile radio net offers tremendous opportunities for moving data around. Packet transmission of data is also possible on the Tetra network – a technology that is only just emerging on mobile phone networks.

Nokia successfully installed the Helsinki Energy Tetra network and is now preparing to launch a mobile radio device equipped with a WAP browser.


WAP: information on the move

Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) is an open standard protocol that provides access to internet based services – e-mail, e-commerce and information services – from hand held devices such as digital mobile phones, personal digital assistants (PDAs), pagers and other wireless devices. It is deigned to work on most wireless networks, including CDPD, CDMA, GSM, PDC, PHS, TDMA, FLEX, ReFLEX, iDEN, TETRA, DECT, DataTAC and Mobitex, and can be built on any operating system including palmOS, EPOC, Windows CE, Flexos, OS/9, JavaOS, and so on.

WAP technology allows the hand held device to send a request through the wireless network via an access server to the WAP gateway. This gateway then converts the request to a web protocol and sends it to the web sever. The web sever answers the gateway, where it is converted into a binary code. It is then sent through the wireless network and displayed on the WAP device.

Corporate applications that are being enhanced by WAP technology include:

  • Document sharing/collaborative working
  • Web browsing
  • File transfer
  • Remote LAN access
  • Corporate e-mail
  • Remote monitoring such as meter reading
  • Customer services
  • Remote point of sale.

At the moment, WAP technology is constrained by the limitations of power and available spectrum which results in less bandwidth, and less connection stability. Because of the limitations of battery life, mass-market hand held devices tend to have less powerful CPUs, less memory, and smaller displays. But in spite of these restrictions, the demand for information on the move is still growing. It is estimated that there will be one billion wireless subscribers by the end of 2002.

Because of this growing demand, WAP is poised to take advantage of future evolutions in wireless devices and networks. Increases in bandwidth, data speeds, screen sizes and other segments of wireless technology will enable WAP technology to expand. By taking advantage of internet standards such as XHTML and TCP/IP, WAP specifications provide a long-term, durable platform for developers to build compelling applications for consumers and enterprise applications alike.

In a effort improve the WAP technology that is available today, and provide information to WAP users, a consortium of mobile and internet based companies have joined together to produce the WAP Forum. Ericsson, Motorola, Nokia and Phone.com (formerly Underwired Planet) founded the Forum in 1997, and it has since grown to more than 400 members.

The WAP Forum creates license-free standards to enable the industry to develop WAP technology and products while still allowing companies to keep their own unique features. The continuously growing membership of companies dedicated to improving WAP technology will ensure that information can be found quickly and efficiently no matter where you are.