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Prevent Telecom Infrastructure Equipment Damage

By Andrew Erickson

December 31, 2022


There are four major categories of profit-eating problems in your network:

  1. Poor & Inefficient Infrastructure Maintenance
  2. Equipment Damage
  3. Service-Affecting Outages
  4. Wasteful Power Consumption

Now, let's look at the second factor: Poor & Inefficient Infrastructure Maintenance.

Equipment damage is massively more expensive than a bit of prevention

Why would you spend $100,000 or more on mission-critical equipment at a remote facility, then neglect spending less than 1% of that amount on basic monitoring to protect it?

It may sound silly, but this happens. Frequently. So then, what is the underlying human psychology that drives this problem?

Let's start by asking a different question: What does a veteran driver know that a 16-year-old does not? There are two major categories of this knowledge:

  1. What specific actions will risk a collision?
  2. What are the physical, emotional, and financial costs of a collision?

In other words, a veteran has been burned before and knows how to avoid getting burned in the future. A novice doesn't understand either of these things, and is thus doubly unable to make a wise choice.

As they say, good decisions come from experience, which comes from bad decisions.

My goal in this chapter is to help you short-circuit this age-old problem. By discovering the battle scars of those who came before you, you'll gain wisdom without suffering yourself.

What causes equipment damage at your remote sites?

Let's consider a few different sources of infrastructure damage that can sneak up on you at remote sites:

1. You don't notice that a site is overheating

Everything from a simple HVAC failure to an actual fire can cause havoc at your site. Each piece of your equipment has a specified temperature range. When your cooling system (or heating system in cold climates) isn't working properly, site temperatures can quickly get out of hand.

It's easy enough to respond to something like an HVAC breakdown. We have many clients who keep box fans in their truck to vent hot air from a building. You can't roll a truck, however, when you don't know that anything is wrong.

2. You don't notice that your battery string is undercharging or overcharging

Similar to temperature, your voltage can also go out of spec. This can damage all sorts of equipment, especially your battery plant.

We've heard from multiple clients whose rectifiers have failed. The rectifier outputs high voltage-much too high for the battery string. This causes the batteries to self-destruct in a rather spectacular way: the cells "puff out" as they internally fail.

Rectangular gel batteries have gotten stuck in their metal trays after expanding in this way. As expensive as it was to replace a destroyed battery string, the labor to tear them out of the tray was even higher!

If your rectifier or generator is malfunctioning, you might also see other kinds of equipment damage. You don't want the equipment you're powering to be running outside of its ideal voltage range. Over time, that will either shorten its life or - if severe enough - just destroy it.

3. You don't notice theft or vandalism until it's too late

Remote equipment sites are a tempting target for thieves and vandals. They're almost always in out-of-the-way places, and they're full of your expensive gear.

If you don't have some basic remote monitoring in place, you can't do anything to stop the threat of unauthorized intruders. By the time you know anything is wrong, it'll be too late.

4. You short-cycle HVAC or generators until they die

This last cause of equipment damage is a bit more advanced. It's not something that burns you all at once. You're wasting a little bit of your equipment's useful life each day - until it finally fails.

If you're not tracking your HVAC and generator run times with basic sensors and analysis, you can't assess whether you're short-cycling them. As you know, each on/off cycle causes wear and tear. That's why it's so important to optimize your cycling.

Maybe you should widen your HVAC cooling window so cycles are longer but fewer. Maybe you should adjust your generator's stop-start conditions to rely more on your battery plant.

If you aren't remotely monitoring equipment that cycles on and off, you won't know if you're doing it wrong until your gear breaks down.

What can you do to prevent equipment damage?

If you're monitoring voltages at your site, you'll see any threats before they cause damage. Solving the problems described in this chapter isn't rocket science. You can detect all of them with just an RTU and simple sensors, like:

  1. Temperature sensors
    In one simple analog reading, a temperature sensor will detect HVAC failures, a rising heat load, seasonal shifts, and even fires.
  2. Analog voltage monitors
    Monitoring the voltage outputs from your rectifier, generator, and battery plants will tell you if any one is outside the proper range. Some RTUs even have internally wired analogs, so you can automatically monitor the power that feeds into their input(s).
  3. Basic security sensors
    Putting magnetic contacts on your site door(s) and adding a few simple motion sensors goes a long way toward detecting thieves and vandals. If you want to go a bit further, you can even loop wire around valuable components like battery cells. If the wire is cut, you'll get an alert. This can also be done with fiber. Clever thieves will have a much harder time jumpering around a fiber cut to avoid detection.
  4. Airflow sensors
    Especially when combined with temperature, monitoring the air flowing from your HVAC vents will tell you about any failure or degraded performance (ex. clogged filter). When you combine these simple sensors with history logging in the RTU, you can count HVAC cycles and look for opportunities to reduce them. Some RTUs can even count HVAC on/off cycles and alert you if you're having too many cycles too quickly.

Talk to me about protecting your remote site equipment.

Let's have a quick phone call to talk about the information above and apply it your specific scenario. I'll answer all of your questions and give you more specific examples from my previous work.

Give me a call at 1-800-693-0351 or email me at sales@dpstele.com to get started.

Andrew Erickson

Andrew Erickson

Andrew Erickson is an Application Engineer at DPS Telecom, a manufacturer of semi-custom remote alarm monitoring systems based in Fresno, California. Andrew brings more than 17 years of experience building site monitoring solutions, developing intuitive user interfaces and documentation, and opt...