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Alarm monitoring technology has been a bit of an "unsung hero" in the telecom world for decades now. Acting as the watchful eyes and ears, these technologies ensure that your network operations run smoothly 7x24x365.
They alert the necessary personnel on your team when something is amiss. With the rise of digitalization and a more interconnected world, the importance of efficient and advanced alarm monitoring systems has never been higher. Customers, including and especially people with an emergency situation, are increasingly intolerant of any service outage.
A glimpse into history easily shows that monitoring systems, primarily consisting of Remote Terminal Units (RTUs) and central master stations, are mission-critical. They ensure the operational efficiency of telecom networks.
Yet, as with all technologies, monitoring devices must adapt and evolve to meet the challenges and opportunities of modern times.
What are the key changes we're seeing in 2023 that require adjustment of your remote monitoring tactics? Let's dive in!
An RTU is a microprocessor-controlled device that interfaces objects in the physical world to a remote monitoring system of some kind. This can be a distributed control system or SCADA (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition) system or even just an RTU operating independently.
RTUs are designed to read and process data from external sensors, execute control commands from the master. They can sometimes make autonomous decisions based on the data they receive.
RTUs play a crucial role in gathering data such as temperature readings, HVAC system statuses, or the operational status of equipment. They can also control device outputs based on commands or predefined logic. For instance, an RTU can be programmed to turn off a device when certain temperature thresholds are breached.
In modern telecom, RTUs are indispensable. They are essential in monitoring various systems. This includes the HVAC, ensuring that the propane tank doesn't run out of fuel, and maintaining the operational efficiency of the tower light controller.
RTUs act as the first line of defense, picking up any potential threats and immediately relaying them for corrective action.
While RTUs are scattered across different locations, gathering data, your "central master station" acts as the central hub where all this data is collated and analyzed. Essentially, it's the "brain" of your alarm monitoring system.
Master stations regularly poll RTUs for updates or wait for unsolicited ("asynchronous" because they are not on a synchronized schedule) messages from the RTUs. Masters analyze this data, and if an anomaly is detected or a threshold exceeded, alarms are triggered.
"Alarm" responses could range from a simple email alert to more sophisticated actions, such as dispatching maintenance teams or re-routing network traffic.
Alarm monitoring systems have successfully overseen telecom operations for years in the basic RTU & master station architecture I described above. However, modern realities have compelled this technology to evolve rapidly to properly handle new challenges:
With advancements in technology, traditional POTS phone lines have largely gone away. These copper phone lines, once commonly used for dialer RTUs, are becoming increasingly scarce. Digitalization and the rise of mobile and broadband networks have resulted in a gradual phase-out of POTS.
This decline poses a challenge for legacy RTUs designed to communicate primarily via these phone lines. Without this communication method, they can't communicate.
In my work with DPS clients, we react to the elimination of POTS lines by deploying a new RTU with LAN (virtually all models have this) or within a wireless modem if no LAN is available.
With the shrinking cost and increased availability of wireless communication, many organizations are turning to this method for their alarm monitoring needs. The benefits are numerous: better range, flexibility in installation, and scalability.
At DPS, we're seeing increased interested in things like LoraWAN communication for use in oil fields and other distributed operations. It's all part of the ongoing evolution toward the "Internet of Things" (IoT).
Many modern RTUs are now being designed or retrofitted to support wireless communication. This not only ensures consistent communication with the central master station but also allows for real-time updates, enhancing the monitoring system's efficiency.
Interestingly, we released several wireless-capable RTUs at DPS during the 2G network era. These worked fine, but our RTUs are very durable and easily outlasted the 2G networks they used to communicate. As a result, I now tend to use external wireless modems for my clients, as these can be replaced in the next 5-10 years when older networks are turned down.
In a digital world, data breaches and cyberattacks have become a growing concern. As alarm monitoring systems increasingly rely on Internet-based communication, they become vulnerable to these threats.
To counteract this, I've seen increased requirements for secure communication protocols. This has resulted in the adoption of standards like TLS 1.2 (Transport Layer Security) and SNMPv3 (Simple Network Management Protocol version 3), ensuring encrypted communication and safeguarding against unauthorized access.
I'm also now right in the middle of an IT-to-OT network cutover for a major DPS client. The goal with OT networks is to put equipment that really doesn't need internet access onto a more secure network with limited entry points. This makes security much easier to achieve, because there are fewer "nooks and crannies" for vulnerabilities to hide.
You can either let the changing world "happen to you", or you can adjust your approach to survive and thrive. Here are several tools you can harness to consistently improve your remote monitoring system:
What will the future hold for remote monitoring devices like your RTUs and central masters? Here are three trends that you can expect to continue in the coming years:
At DPS, we specialize in remote monitoring devices. Even within that niche, we're specialists in the integration of legacy and modern systems.
For that reason, you should absolutely speak to a DPS engineer about your goals for improving your remote monitoring in 2023 and beyond.
Call DPS at 1-800-693-0351 or email firstname.lastname@example.org