QnA with Cybertec Company Director Mark Irwin

September 14, 2020

In Australia, the 2000’s was a decade when mobile technology was evolving rapidly, the shutdown of analog systems was imminent and the rising of digital networks such as Telstra’s 2G and CDMA started to populate the landscape. Just a few years later, 3G (or Next G) was introduced into Australia’s metropolitan areas, and it was clear that this technology was soon going to replace the CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access) network across rural and regional Australia as well.

Working in this emerging industry of telephone and radio communications are couple of Marks – Mark Thompson and Mark Irwin. These electrical engineers were in the midst of consultation work in critical communications for security and aviation clients, when they realised 3G technology was going to allow things to happen that just weren’t possible before – there was a gap in the market in the industrial sector with real opportunity. They got busy and around 2005/6 they started to develop a small range of smart modems, which they released to market from about 2007 as Cybertec.

The industrial communications brand Cybertec has been a staple within Madison Technologies’ product range for over 12 years, although depending on your job role or industry, you may not have come across it before. We’d like to share some information about this highly successful but humble Australian brand, and we sat down for a quick QnA with Cybertec Company Director Mark Irwin.

Madison has been a distributor of Cybertec for over 12 years now, but how did the brand first start?

It was really the introduction of 3G. 3G was going to bring new opportunities in telemetry and remote monitoring and other M2M applications. Telstra was one of the first companies in the world to roll out 3G. Before then, everything was really slow, ‘data’ wasn’t really a thing and most of the devices on the market were replacement dial-up modems for use on phone lines – not wireless. Customers wanted to use a new technology but didn’t want to replace the equipment that was there. We made something that looked like a dumb dial up modem but acted as a smarter router with whiz bang Ethernet ports to bring data through.

Reliability is key. Can you explain what Cybertec does to maintain such durability?

In general, reliability is something we’ve worked really hard on. We understand customers have to install these devices in remote and sometimes difficult to reach locations. We design and build our products to be rugged – for use in harsh environments, with dust resistant metal enclosures and componentry that can withstand high and low temperatures. We realise (to a customer) the cost of product is sometimes not as important and the cost of installing or replacement and maintaining the installation – the more we can do to prevent personnel needing to go to a site, and just keep the devices working, the better it is.

You recently introduced an industry leading 5-year warranty on devices. This demonstrates a distinct confidence in the hardware.

In terms of the warranty, there are two aspects to this. Firstly, we just don’t get a lot of product back for repair, our return rates are very low, so that gives us a lot of confidence that we’re meeting our design goals in terms of good reliability. Secondly, the reason why we can give 5 Years warranty, is because we maintain very tight control over the manufacturing process. Everything from parts purchasing, through to the way we populate the parts on the printed circuit boards, the testing that everything undergoes, including burns testing – the whole process.

We have also gradually increased our compliance testing. There are Australian standards and they have certain criteria that we need to meet. We generally use European standards to ensure tests are higher than the Australian ratings – not across the board, but we’ve extended that testing over time to test to higher levels. We don’t just do this for fun, (because it’s expensive and hard work), WHY we do it is because it adds to the reliability of the product. It makes it more robust, and it makes it more reliable. That’s why we do it.

So, in terms of network connection reliability and functionality, what are some of the features of the Cybertec modems?

Customers just expect reliability now. A Cybertec unit has the smarts to do everything it can to maintain connection to the network. Say it’s in a bad signal area, struggling to get on, it can be configured to try different radio technologies (eg: 3G, 4G) and it will switch between frequencies (Band 28). It will constantly monitor for error conditions and attempt to rectify or work around the problem accordingly.

And nowadays, more than ever, Cybersecurity is a big consideration.

In terms of Cybersecurity there are a few aspects to it. The VPN options are important, but it’s not relevant for all deployments (unless a company is running a VPN, it can be meaningless). The other aspect is that Cybertec constantly monitor for security vulnerabilities, we test for security vulnerabilities, we issue firmware updates with security patches as required. There are security features in the product as well such as firewalls.

Essentially, a lot of what we do in terms of security comes down to what’s not there. We don’t include things that can cause security vulnerabilities or if there’s a chance that something can be exploited or used incorrectly, our defaults will disable things that the user has to enable… so the default settings tend to be secure. It’s a balance, of user functionality and security level. You know with your phone, it would be easier if you could use it each time without having to unlock it, but it is more secure with that functionality built in.

The devices are designed to be used in extreme Industrial environments, can you give us some examples?

Where and how people use the devices for data management and monitoring is quite broad.

Electrical Utilities use Cybertec devices for remote management and monitoring of their power recloser systems and embedding the device onto their SCADA network. Also to control, monitor and manage their remote solar farms and battery banks.

Australian broadcasters have purchased a lot of Cybertec equipment over the years to ensure Television transmission towers are working efficiently.

Some customers use the Cybertec device to remotely control, monitor and manage diesel generators and pumps – such as in the water utilities area and sewerage treatment facilities. Mining vehicles – engine and general vehicle maintenance.

And the Rail industry uses Cybertec routers to monitor and manage the rail signalling networks remotely, in places that the fibre/copper infrastructure does not exist. The devices are also used on board to extract vehicle management data, and monitoring.

What are the products that make up the range?

In our cellular range, we have three tiers. From an entry level SMM-400 for simple M2M function, to the mid-range performance Cat 1 devices (2155X, 2255X) to the 2455X High Performance model for faster speed, electrically isolated power supply and serial ports. We also have devices for xDSL and IoT.

The 2155X and 2255X is an evolution of the very first original model (1100) that came out way back when.  It’s the same form factor, same connectors, same power supply type, you would almost configure it the same – everything is essentially – the same. It has been designed to be a continuation of the of the original model, so that if you brought a device over 10 years ago, or you want to update from the original 3G to 4G, you can do it without changing much at all.

Cybertec is an Australian company, based in Sydney. Tell us a bit about your set up?

We have a Design centre in Sydney – all engineering staff are located there, it’s where we have our test facilities for design testing.

The other part of it is the Manufacturing side. We work with various Australian manufacturing companies for custom design components. We have good working relationship with local manufacturers, which all feeds into the overall quality and reliability. All device test and final assembly are done in-house. We do as much local manufacturing as possible – and have done since the life of the company.

2020 has been a year of surprises globally – what impacts has/will COVID have to your operation?

Supply chains are affected on some things, but the impact has been minimal and manageable. We’ve been doing this for so long… designing and manufacturing in Australia. So far there have been no significant delays in product delivery. If anything, the current environment has really highlighted to a lot of people, the need for our sort of product that connects you remotely.

What’s a unique fact about the company that we wouldn’t know?

Can you believe we still have some of the original C Model 1100 out there still working… they’ll eventually be taken out due to technology changes.

What’s next for the brand?

We are always working to improve the product range. All the products have been transitioned from 3G – ready for the impending shut down. We realise as the costs of ‘data’ have come down, the application opportunities have gone up.