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Telecom Tower Monitoring: Full Tutorial and Device Recommendations

By Andrew Erickson

October 30, 2022


This tutorial has been designed for telecom professionals who want to learn how to use traditional sensors and even advanced AI machine learning for telecom tower monitoring. It will also be useful for students and researchers who are interested in machine learning and its applications.

How to Monitor Your Telecom Towers with Standard Sensors

In this era of digitalization, telecom towers are the backbone of every telecom network. The need for their monitoring in a cell tower management system or similar scenario has never been bigger.

Fortunately, the art and science of monitoring towers is now well established.

First, you need to deploy sensors at the tower site to track important environmental levels and threats. These include:

Use Off-The-Shelf RTUs to Collect and Transmit Sensor Data

Next, you need to set up a telecom monitoring system that can gather all the sensor readings, store them for later analysis and, in most systems, transmit them to a central server for logging and display.

This is most commonly done with an off-the-shelf remote telemetry unit, or RTU.

An RTU is a dedicated computer designed specifically for monitoring environmental conditions and equipment status at a remote location. It has built-in support for the most common types of sensors and can (depending on the model) be programmed to perform simple or sometimes even complex data analysis.

In most cases, the RTU will be configured to automatically transmit its collected data back to a central server using a wireless or wired connection. This allows engineers and other authorized personnel to monitor the status of all their telecom towers from one location.

Which RTU Should You Choose? What Price is Typical for a Good Monitoring Device?

There are many different models and brands of RTUs on the market, so it's important to select one that is compatible with the types of sensors you are using and that offers the features and functionality you need.

Some of popular RTUs used in telecom tower monitoring applications include:

These RTUs typically cost between $500 and $2000 (although some cost more), depending on the features and number of ports (sensor input/output connections) they offer.

Most of these RTUs can be powered by either an AC or DC power source, making them suitable for a wide range of environments. DC is more typical in tower environments, especially the -48 VDC that has long been the standard in telecom.

NetGuardian RTUs have a low power draw. This is important for sites where solar panels or batteries (with a standby generator) are the power source.

Some RTUs also come with built-in environmental sensors, which can be helpful in certain applications. For example, the NetGuardian 832A (which is typically ordered with this option) has an integrated temperature sensor and supports daisy-chained additional sensors. These help to ensure that the RTU itself is operating within a safe temperature range and that conditions at the site are not conducive to condensation or other problems that could damage sensitive electronics.

In general, though, it's best to use external sensors whenever possible. This allows you to more easily customize the sensor configuration to the specific needs of the site and also provides a higher degree of accuracy and reliability.

Choose the Right Head-End Master Station to Collect Tower Site Alarms

The third and final piece of the telecom tower monitoring puzzle is the head-end system (or "master station") that collects alarms from all the RTUs in the network.

This system needs to be able to handle a large number of alarms coming in from potentially hundreds or even thousands of different sites. It also needs to offer features that make it easy to view, acknowledge, and respond to alarms as they come in.

There are several different types of head-end systems on the market. In the modern age, nearly all of them use standard ethernet communication.

You can choose an SNMP manager

The first choice you can make is an SNMP manager. These systems are designed to work with SNMP-enabled devices like routers, switches, and (of course) RTUs. They offer a high degree of compatibility and interoperability with other SNMP devices. As a result, you can choose any SNMP-capable RTU and any SNMP manager and have them "play nice" together.

Your other option is to choose a more specialized monitoring device. While you never want to lock yourself into a "walled garden" of proprietary protocols, so manufacturers are good enough that they don't resort to that old trick.

T/Mon is more specialized for telecom tower monitoring

T/Mon is one good example. Made by the same company behind NetGuardian and TempDefender RTUs, T/Mon can obviously collect alarms from those RTUs. It will also do it using an alternative protocol that has many advantages over standard SNMP.

Importantly, T/Mon can also support major protocols like SNMP, DNP3, MODBUS, and many others. That allows it to support a huge range of third-party equipment that you probably have in your tower network.

Because T/Mon has 30-year-old roots in telemetry monitoring, everything about its interfaces (now featuring modern maps) is designed to give you a very intuitive picture of all of your remote tower sites.

Beyond Simple Sensors: Predictive Monitoring using AI

(All of the above will usually be all you need to get started. With more and more processing power becoming available in central master stations and especially at the network's edge, I wanted to throw in a bit about recent developments in AI technology for remote monitoring.)

Predictive telecom tower monitoring is a more advanced process of using machine learning algorithms to predict when equipment or a system is likely to fail. By using predictive maintenance, telecom operators can plan for repairs and replacements before the equipment fails.

These techniques can be used to improve the accuracy of predictions and reduce the number of false positives. This helps to avoid disruptions in service and reduces the cost of repairs.

By using machine learning, telecom operators can improve the quality of their predictions and make better decisions about when to repair or replace equipment.

There are many subtopics under this umbrella, so let's look at a few of them now:

Anomaly detection is a machine learning technique that is used to identify unusual behavior in data. Anomalies can be caused by faults in equipment or systems, or by human error. By using anomaly detection, telecom operators can detect and investigate potential problems before they cause disruptions in service.

Performance optimization is a machine learning technique that is used to improve the performance of equipment or systems. By using performance optimization, telecom operators can improve the efficiency of their operations and reduce the cost of running their business.

Give Me a Call to Firm Up Your Telecom Tower Monitoring Plans

If you have telecom tower, you don't have any other choice but to monitor them. Fortunately, the science of how to do this is pretty well established. As we discussed above, all it takes is sensors, RTUs, and your choice of a central master station.

To go into more detail now, the best way is to give me (or another engineer at DPS) a call.

You can reach me at 1-800-693-0351 or email me at sales@dpstele.com

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...