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Could Australian technology police the US-Mexico border using sensors instead of a physical wall?

Rob Broomfield, chief of Melbourne’s Future Fibre Technologies, thinks so.

Future Fibre (ASX:FFT), which specialises in physical perimeter intrusion detection, makes a fibre-based sensor technology that – even when buried underground — can detect footsteps several metres away.

Its latest technology can cover 60km of fibre with a single sensor. Its most ambitious project has covered a perimeter of 250km.

The technology has the ability to detect, locate and count the number of people crossing borders.

Hello Donald Trump.

“That whole program has a life of its own, which is hard to predict,” says Broomfield of Trump’s US-Mexico border project.

“I can say I have partners putting in proposals to use FFT technology for their fencing solutions.

“We have already won awards and contracts for border solutions outside of America, so the US-Mexico border is something we’d be interested in and have had partners that have put in proposals.”

How the technology works

Founded in Melbourne and FFT is a $15 million maker of sensor technology that ‘bolts on’ to fibre-optic cables to detect and locate intrusions in sensitive infrastructure such as oil and gas pipelines, electricity grids, defence systems – and yes, borders.

It counts Australian and American government agencies among its customers, as well as oil and gas clients in the Eastern Bloc, India, the Middle East and Latin America.

The technology uses fibre optic cables as sensors to detect movements, data-tapping, cyber-attacks and even vandalism. It can monitor data to locate and investigate potential security breaches.

Unlike other perimeter intrusion detection systems offered by competitors such as Sen Star and Fiber SenSys, Broomfield says FFT’s technology has no electronics in the field, requires no communications or power around the perimeter fencing and is protected against lightning strikes. It also mitigates against false positives and nuisance alarms.

All electronics are stored within its proprietary computer technology which taps into the end of the fibre and contains laser sources, data acquisition cards and software which can detect minute vibrations on the fibre.

The sensors can be attached via dark cables (unlit fibre) to oil and gas pipelines, or bolt onto existing lit fibre-optic communications cables already buried below ground.

How the technology can be used in Australia

The Australian federal government has recently introduced new regulations to make industries pay closer attention to security.

This could benefit FFT, said Mark Gregory, associate professor at the School of Engineering at RMIT University.

The Telecommunications Sector Security Reforms bill – passed last month – creates obligations for telcos to protect their networks and inform authorities of any changes with the potential to affect security.

The laws are designed to reduce the growing number of cyber attacks in Australia.

The Australian Cyber Security Centre responded to 1095 cyber security incidents on government systems “considered serious enough to warrant operational responses”  between January 2015 and June 2016.

Australia’s national computer emergency response team (CERT) responded to 14,804 cyber security incidents affecting Australian businesses between July 2015 and June 2016 — 418 of which involved systems of national interest and critical infrastructure.

“Governments internationally are looking at finding low-cost ways to improve overall infrastructure security,” Professor Gregory told Stockhead. “This type of perimeter intrusion detection has become very much centre of place with what they are doing. It is being adopted quite broadly.”

The perimeter intrusion detection market is worth roughly $US111 billion ($140 billion) – and is forecast to grow to $US196 billion by 2020, according to Markets and Markets.

Pipeline safety alone will be worth $US8.7 billion by then.

Bulking up

FFT recently agreed to merge with another ASX listed security company MaxSec Group.

The two groups have similar customers and hope to capitalise on its two product groups — BQT and OverGlobal — which cover access control and high security lock-in solutions, as well as logistical operations such as transporting gold and banknotes, Mr Broomfield said.

MaxSec has deals in more than 100 countries for the transportation of high value goods, providing opportunities to sell FFT products. Mr Broomfield is a director of FFT, which already owns 13 per cent stake of MaxSec.

Will Donald Trump’s US-Mexico border be one of those upcoming projects?

It’s not likely in the short-term, given a slump in US Government security investment due to the Trump administration’s “settling in” problems, Mr Broomfield says.

“What we are seeing is a number of decisions are being deferred and we are simply not seeing the same numbers being spent on investment compared to previous administrations.

“We know a number of contracts we’re named on but no-one is going through to the final purchasing stage.

“We have robust investment in other regions including Eastern Europe and India, and they look like they are progressing very well.  We hope the US administration will settle down and support the security upgrades that are needed.”