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Your Buyer's Guide to RTU Price, Function, and Capacity Options

By Andrew Erickson

June 11, 2023

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Understanding the cost of a Remote Terminal Unit (RTU) for site monitoring is essential when you are considering how to best keep tabs on your remote locations.

However, the price of an RTU is influenced by a variety of factors, including functionality, capacities, and (like all things) brand reputation.

In this guide, we'll outline what you can expect at various RTU price levels, helping you make the most informed decision possible.

NOTE: All prices are in US dollars.

Entry-Level RTUs: $500 - $1,000

Entry-level RTUs provide basic remote monitoring capabilities and are typically ideal for small sites. They offer a low cost and straightforward solution for monitoring essentials such as temperature, humidity, door access, or simple equipment status through dry contact inputs.

Their capacity usually ranges from 2 to 16 discrete inputs, and sometimes a few analog inputs for sensors. These units are typically easy to install, configure, and use, making them perfect for straightforward, smaller-scale monitoring needs.

However, they may lack advanced features like SNMP or Modbus protocol support (ex. some can only send email or integrate with a manufacturer's cloud subscription app), and they usually have limited scalability and communication options.

Mid-Range RTUs: $1,000 - $2,500

Mid-range RTUs offer more advanced capabilities and a larger capacity for inputs/outputs (I/O). They commonly support between 16 and 64 I/O points. These units allow for more comprehensive monitoring and control functions, especially M2M (Machine to Machine) protocols. They begin to offer support for more advanced communication protocols like SNMP, Modbus, and sometimes DNP3. This expands the third-party master stations you might choose to use in your network management system.

In this price range, RTUs also begin to offer features like built-in trend logging and alarm notification via email or SMS. Some models may also come with support for 4G/5G or satellite communication modules, making them more suitable for more remote or challenging locations.

Regarding built-in 4G/5G, this is not something we tend to do at DPS. Instead, we provide external modules. The problem with built-in modules is that the wireless networks will change within 5-10 years. That has caused trouble in the past because our RTUs simply last too long (ordinarily a good thing). Shifting to external, replaceable modules for wireless connectivity was our best way of adapting to this reality.

High-End RTUs: $2,500 - $5,000

High-end RTUs are designed to handle large, complex networks. With capacities of 32 to over 100 I/O points, these units provide advanced functionality including comprehensive protocol support (SNMP, MODBUS, DNP3, IEC 60870-5-101/104, etc.), redundant power supplies, and multiple communication interfaces (dual ethernet, RS232/485, 4G/5G, etc.).

It's also increasingly common for RTUs to offer extensive logging and trend analysis capabilities, along with sophisticated alarm management features such as alarm escalation, silencing, and shelving. High-end RTUs often come with stronger cybersecurity features to protect both your overall network and the RTU itself.

Some of these RTUs may also offer redundancy or hot-swappable components for high-availability applications.

Premium RTUs: $5,000 and Above

The top tier of RTUs offers features and capacities designed for very demanding applications.

RTUs in this price range almost defy summarization, because we're well into territory where you can expect a semi-custom device from DPS or another manufacturer.

These units can have all the features of lower-priced models, with significantly more input and output capacity (100 to 500+ I/O points to the extent you need that), and often with added support for redundancy and high-availability configurations.

Premium RTUs often offer highly customizable software and hardware configurations, multiple communication protocols, and interfaces, advanced cybersecurity features (faster CPUs are needed to handle modern encryption standards), and sophisticated data logging and trend analysis capabilities.

These systems may also include integrated HMI (Human-Machine Interface) capabilities, superior build quality for harsh environments, and professional support packages.

Ultimately, brand reputation (primarily driven by long-term reliability) is a lot of what gets RTUs into this price range.

Remember to properly value what your RTU must accomplish

While price is an important factor in choosing an RTU for remote site monitoring, it's far more important to consider the specific needs and circumstances of your project. We all have budgets, but remember that budgets are more at risk from large-scale failures that RTUs prevent than from RTU prices themselves.

An entry-level unit may be more than enough for a small, straightforward project, while larger or more complex networks deserve a more expensive, advanced unit.

Always ensure to balance the purchase price against the real-world protective value of any remote monitoring RTU to ensure you honor the importance of your mission to the public.

Featured RTUs: DPS Telecom NetGuardians

To balance cost, functionality, and capacity in RTUs, DPS Telecom's NetGuardian series is something to consider. As a semi-custom RTU manufacturer, our catalog has grown organically every time one of our clients needed something different than what we already made.

You'll find hybrids of RTUs and PDUs, RTUs with non-standard mounting styles, external battery sensors, and more.

Our NetGuardians are noted for their robustness and longevity. Working in Sales at DPS, I love when people who have used NetGuardians for 10-20 years announce that they're "bulletproof" and that's why they want to upgrade to the latest model.

One use of our customization is to provide comprehensive protocol support and advanced alarm management features - even if it's not something we already do. Just tell me what you're trying to accomplish. I'll act as a go-between to keep you connected with Engineering to get the product you want.

DPS RTUs are available at a wide range of prices

One challenge I have when selling to people with smaller budget expectations (less than about $800 per RTU) is that making a semi-custom small-batch product in the United States has a certain minimum price requirement. I can only go so low.

That's why I always recommend that we try to do as much as possible with every RTU you buy. Each additional function has a smaller incremental cost than the last.

The entry-level NetGuardian units offer the essential monitoring capabilities required for smaller sites while retaining the reliability and ease-of-use you'll get with any model.

Moving up the range, the more advanced NetGuardian units offer extensive I/O capabilities, multiple communication protocols, trend analysis, and protocol alarm management features (incoming SNMP or MODBUS, for example). These high-capacity RTUs are designed for complex networks and provide superior remote site monitoring solutions, ensuring your remote assets and infrastructure are protected around the clock.

Perhaps one of the standout features of DPS Telecom's RTUs is our ability for customization and scalability. Regardless of the complexity of your network or the scale of your monitoring needs, their RTUs are designed to grow with your business, ensuring you always have the capabilities you need. This can be either through "expansion shelf" units or through our 30% upgrade discount program.

Call DPS for RTU Guidance

To speak with a DPS Telecom representative, give us a quick call at 1-800-693-0351 or email sales@dpstele.com

Our team is ready to help you navigate your RTU options and ensure you find the perfect fit for your remote site monitoring needs.

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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...