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The Meteor Burst Communication Network System

MBC Europe BV
Kerkenbos 10-47
NL-6546 BB Nijmegen
The Netherlands

Contents

1. Introduction

2. Market Applications

3. Principles of meteor burst communication

4. The Meteor Burst Communication (MBC) Network

4.1 General

4.2 Meteor Burst Base Station

4.3 Auxiliary Station

4.4 Remote Station

4.5 Data Center

5. MBC Network Applications

5.1 FleetTrak Service

5.2 ProTrak Service

5.3 Future Developments

Appendix A: Functional block diagrams

 

1. Introduction

MBC Europe has developed a data communication network to cover large areas of Europe and other continents cost-effectively. It is suitable for wireless two-way communication of small data messages.The backbone of this network is a VHF radio system utilizing meteor burst communication. It uses the billions of free meteors coming into the airlayer around the earth on a daily basis.

The system is installed and operational in Denmark, covering part of the Netherlands, Belgium, the north of France and Germany. The first system in South Africa is scheduled for installation in the year 2000.

This document introduces you to the Meteor Burst Communication (MBC) network and its applications. Sections 2 and 3 of this paper describe the communication principle of the MBC network system and the coherence of the network subsystems. Section 4 provides more detail on two applications, vehicle fleet management and stolen vehicle tracking and location.

2. Market Applications

Seamless full-coverage communications technology offers the opportunity for immediate penetration of a multitude of potential high yield markets.

The system can easily be linked to the fixed telephone network to send and receive e-mail in areas where there is no telephone cable in the ground. Interconnection with GSM networks to send and receive SMS messages in non-covered areas is also possible.

Government and commercial organizations in Africa are considering the use of the MBC system in rural areas for elections, education, spreading national news, population registration, payment of pensions, and remote reading of electricity meters. Additional serious options include tracking and tracing of trucks, trailers and railway wagons to optimize logistics and prevent theft.

The figure below illustrates a wide range of market applications for which meteor burst communication is suitable.

 

MBCimage0.gif (15082 bytes)


Figure 1. Market applications of MBC Network system

 

3. Principles of meteor burst communication

Meteor burst or meteor scatter refers to a unique means of long-distance communication via reflections by ionized gas trails in the upper atmosphere. These gas trails are generated by the burn up of small meteors impacting on the Earth's atmosphere. The typical meteor trail is only available for a few hundred milliseconds.

As communication is only possible in very short intervals, the term 'burst' is introduced. Due to the nature of the phenomenon used, waiting times are introduced. The delay between the appearance of two consecutive trails ranges from seconds to minutes, depending on the time of year, the time of day and design factors of the system.

The network supports a variety of data communication services for road transport and telemetry applications. The FleetTrak service has been developed for fleet management systems and provides two-way data communication plus vehicle tracking for trucks. A second service, offered under the name ProTrak, has been developed for private cars and provides after-theft tracking and alarm messaging.

MBCimage1.gif (3403 bytes)

Figure 2. Radio reflection by ionized gas trail of meteors.

In remote areas the meteor burst communication system can be used to transfer data from a measurement site to the central office. Examples of these telemetric applications are snow height and tide gauge measurements.

Most meteor scatter applications operate between 30 and 50 MHz. At frequencies below 30 MHz absorption and noise, both galactic and artificial, increase drastically. Furthermore, the antenna size and cost increase at lower frequencies. The data communication capacity will decrease when frequencies above 50 MHz are used, as the average burst length decreases with increasing frequency. Additionally, radio and television allocations preclude meteor burst operation above 50 MHz.

At this moment, MBC Europe BV is the first and only provider of meteor scatter communication in Europe. Since only two 25 kHz channels are required for the entire MBC network, in total four operators can be assigned within this harmonized band. For Europe the harmonized frequency band for meteor scatter applications is allocated to 39.0-39.2 MHz.

 

4. The Meteor Burst Communication (MBC) Network

4.1 General

The MBC network can be divided into the radio frequency (RF) part and the data transfer and processing part, as shown in the figure below.

    MBCimage2.gif (10181 bytes)

    Figure 3. MBC Network system overview.

The number of Meteor Burst Base Stations (MBBS) depends on the size of the area which has to be covered. To cover an area of one million square kilometers, which could meet the needs of a country such as Senegal, the MBC network system would use three ground stations and a computer system with tailormade software. The price for a complete network such as this, installed and tested, would be about 5 million Euro. The time between sending and receiving a message for such a network is around 5 minutes. Leaving out one ground station would decrease the investment but increase the waiting time.

All network subsystems are described in the next sections. Functional block diagrams are to be found in the appendix of this document.

4.2 Meteor Burst Base Station

Using meteor trails, a meteor burst base station (MBBS) can communicate with remote stations, either mobile or fixed, over distances between 500 and 1500 km. Using meteor burst technology, a few tens of base stations provide the infrastructure for the pan-European data communication network. The data exchange between a base station and a remote station is initiated by a test signal (probe) transmitted into space by the base station. If and when a meteor trail is in the right position and reflects the signal back to Earth, the remote station answers the call by the base station and data is exchanged. The base stations are connected directly to the Data Center of the network.

4.3 Auxiliary Station

For communication in a densely populated, industrial area, auxiliary stations might be installed to supplement the coverage by the base stations. The auxiliary stations do not use the meteor burst phenomenon, but work in a Line-of-Sight (LOS) mode. The data received can be transferred to one of the base stations using a meteor burst connection after which it will be delivered at the Data Center. A direct link between the auxiliary station and the Data Center is possible as well. In the current network planning, no auxiliary stations have been adopted.

4.4 Remote Station

A remote station can either be mobile or fixed. Mobile stations are for example the trucks and cars from the FleetTrak and ProTrak service. The mobile stations use a radio modem and an omni-directional antenna that is mounted on the roof of the vehicle. Fixed stations, for example meteorological sites located in remote areas, use the same radio modem. For the fixed stations, however, a directive antenna can be used to communicate with the meteor burst base stations. The use of a directive antenna will improve the communication link and reduce the waiting times. The power necessary to operate the equipment can be generated via solar cells.

4.5 Data Center

The heart of the network is the Data Center, where the information from the remote station and customer terminal is gathered and passed on. Until the data is passed to either base station or customer terminal, it is stored in so-called Call Detail Records (CDRs). The CDRs contain a flag indicating whether the message is delivered or not. After a message is delivered, the CDR is used for Billing and Accounting purposes and deleted from the database.

The customer is able to contact the Data Center by means of a modem. In the future, the Data Center will be accessible via the Internet. As a standard SMS protocol is used to transfer the data across the MBC network, the customer is free to use any SMS interface at the remote station or at the customer end of the network.

 

5. MBC Network Applications

5.1 FleetTrak Service

FleetTrak is a two-way messaging system for the transport sector, providing communication between mobiles stations (in particular trucks) and a central office for vehicle dispatch and tracking in support of fleet management systems.

      MBCimage3.gif (29511 bytes)

      Figure 4. FleetTrak application.

A standard subscription to the FleetTrak service includes the exchange of messages between the dispatch center and the vehicle and (automatic) position reports by the vehicle. The messages may include free text and a large variety of status and control information, efficiently coded for reliable transmission.

For the FleetTrak application, a radio modem is installed in a suitable place inside the truck cabin. A GPS unit is connected to the radio modem, providing the position of the vehicle with an accuracy of about 10 meters using the Global Positioning System (GPS). The GPS antenna can be installed inside the truck cabin as well. The FleetTrak mobile antenna is mounted on the roof of the vehicle.

A simple hand-held terminal can be connected, providing the driver with the means to input status and text messages. Input connectors are provided for connection of other car systems (e.g. engine and trailer system sensors, board computer) to the FleetTrak system, for status monitoring and logging. A service connector is available for maintenance purposes.

5.2 ProTrak Service

ProTrak is a service for the localization and tracking of stolen vehicles. Upon activation by the Data Center or, optionally, by an alarm system in the car, the position of the car is reported to a central desk of the customer. Here the information is processed and the appropriate action can be taken.

For the ProTrak application, a radio modem is installed in a place inside the car that is not easily accessible. Because of the small dimensions of the unit, it can be hidden easily in various spots in the car. A GPS receiver antenna and a ProTrak mobile antenna are also installed unobtrusively. The unit has no external user controls, since its purpose is to be activated by the customer Call Center or an alarm system only.

When the ProTrak unit is activated, the processor sends a unique identification plus the last known position to the modem for transmission to the Call Center for action. As long as the unit remains activated, regular position updates are transmitted to allow tracking of the stolen vehicle.

The ProTrak service can be extended with an alarm or assistance call activated by the car driver. The data is then sent to the Call Center for appropriate action. Using a set of push buttons the user may specify one out of a number of request types such as technical assistance, medical assistance or police assistance. The radio modem for this so-called ProTrak Plus service is slightly different from the ProTrak unit; it is controlled and activated in a different way. Furthermore, it is not necessary to hide the Pro Trak Plus equipment.

5.3 Future Developments

The functionality of the MBC network will make it suitable for a large number of other applications where tracking and/or messaging on an occasional basis is required. Examples are the tracking of cargo containers or complete trailers, alarms in remote and stationary objects, and control of (environmental) monitoring equipment in remote places. The advantage of a fixed application is the use of a directive antenna increasing the quality of the communication link and thus reducing the waiting time. Due to its low cost and high reliability, the system is ideal for communication from remote areas where other communication systems are not available or expensive.

 

Appendix A: Functional block diagrams

In this appendix you will find the functional block diagrams of all network subsystems. The system overview is shown in Figure 3, above.

Meteor Burst Base Station (MBBS)

MBCimage4.gif (16931 bytes)

 

Auxiliary Station

MBCimage5.gif (10677 bytes)

 

Remote Station

MBCimage6.gif (10570 bytes)


The functional diagram of the software, loaded into the Remote Radio:

MBCimage7.gif (2747 bytes)

 

Data Center Hardware

 

MBCimage8.gif (12544 bytes)

 

Data Center Software

 

MBCimage9.gif (9006 bytes)

 

©   MBC Europe BV 1999. All rights reserved.

While MBC Europe BV believes the information included in this publication is correct as of the date of publication, it is subject to change without notice.

 

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Updated : 2001-11-23