The Best Remote Terminal Units for Utility Companies on the Market Today

By June 14, 2019 August 19th, 2019 Blog, RTUs
RTU for Utility Company

Is a Maserati coupe the best car? Maybe. Is a Maserati coupe the best car for a family of six? Maybe not. “Best” is a relative term, defined by its category. What is best for one is not necessarily best for all.

What’s best for you, or best for your company depends exclusively on you or your utility’s needs, not the needs of other organizations. There is no one model, but there IS one set of rules to follow to find the right model for your utility company. Each location or condition you monitor often demands a different RTU.  

So, how do you decide which equipment to use? Rather than choosing a one-size-fits-all solution that may not be compatible with other equipment in your system, start by considering what you’re trying to accomplish with this RTU. Detail the specific needs of each of your remote locations, then look for the RTU that meets your unique requirements.

This could take a few different forms depending on how common your requirements are in the marketplace. The most convenient case for you is solving a problem that many other utility companies have, which is finding an RTU that will function properly and ensure visibility of your remote sites.

The Value of RTUs

As you know, a remote terminal unit is a monitoring device that collects information from an unmanned location and transmits alarms to relevant personnel when conditions merit. Deployed correctly, RTUs can prevent unexpected equipment failures or unwanted repair situations. These problems can cost from tens of thousands to millions of dollars in system downtime, repairs, fines, and lawsuits.

Deployed correctly, RTUs can prevent unexpected equipment failures or unwanted repair situations.

RTUs are necessary at remote locations that are not actively being watched. This is where expensive problems can occur. While RTUs report problems as they happen, out-of-the-box units may not communicate breakdowns effectively to your connection point.

As such, it’s in the interest of utility companies to procure a network of RTUs that most effectively communicate and help you avoid costly situations. Spending money on more expensive RTUs won’t necessarily generate a larger return on investment. An off-the-shelf unit may or may not meet your needs. Selecting custom-configured RTUs, however, will help you to monitor all of your systems via a custom, web-enabled, management interface.

Identifying the Best RTUs for You

In order to identify the best-fitting RTUs, create an inventory or site list for every site you need to monitor. Then, go through this checklist to determine the RTU capacity and capabilities you require, including whether or not you need more than one model for varying sites. Consider:

  • The type of RTU that is needed and categorize this for each site. Whether you need an RTU that supports SNMP, TL1, LAN, or another type, or if you require a small, medium, or large capacity unit, find the perfect RTU for your spec, needs, and budget.  
  • Specific monitoring needs of each location. To determine the needs of each location, inventory the in-service assets. For every equipment breakdown that could result in a significant outlay, ask “in what ways is this most likely to fail?” Then, for each one, ask “how much would it cost if this asset failed? Is it more than $1,000?” Almost any conceivable failure in a large operation will pass the “$1,000 test.’ These are the conditions your RTUs must keep an eye on.
  • Active intervention needs at each location. Sometimes an alarm isn’t enough. An RTU may warn you that you’ve reached a failure temperature at a remote unmanned location. By the time a technician is dispatched to turn down the heat, it may be too late. Choosing an RTU with the ability to issue local commands allows you to not only monitor conditions but also to alter them.  
  • Communication needs of your existing network. Different devices and networks speak different protocols. There are different versions of Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP), which was originally intended to provide a universal networking language. Make sure your RTUs speak the same language as your existing network, whether that’s SNMP v1, SNMP v2, SNMP v3, or another protocol like Modbus or DNP3.
  • Technical support and service. RTUs can last longer than the employees who procured them. It’s wise to plan for the future by ensuring that your RTU manufacturer will provide technical support and service over the course of the equipment’s lifespan.

Next Steps for Your RTU Needs

Once you understand your needs, the next step is to tally the total number of sites requiring RTUs, how many RTUs per site, and multiply this number to reach a grand total number of RTUs needed for your successful operation. This includes locations that are not currently monitored, as well as those that are not adequately monitored. If nobody’s watching a location, and something expensive could go wrong there, it should probably be monitored.

Once you understand your needs, the next step is to consult with manufacturers of remote monitoring network solutions to see what RTUs are available. Ensure the options they display will meet your needs and your budget. A typical, reliable unit will cost between $700-$5,000, depending on the capacity and capabilities you need.

Then choose the products with the best balance of price and manufacturer reliability. If what’s on the shelf doesn’t meet your needs, you don’t have to buy it. Instead, consider seeking out a manufacturer who can offer you a reasonably-priced custom solution.

Custom Solutions Provide the Best Remote Terminal Units

The list of locations and needs you’ve already developed will help you again when you consult with companies offering custom remote monitoring solutions. By sharing this information, you’ll alter the conversation from “what products are you offering?” to “how are you going to help meet my needs?”

The industry experts at remote monitoring companies can analyze the list and determine what existing solutions will address your concerns. They’ll also consider how they might adjust existing solutions or create custom RTUs to precisely match your monitoring needs. As a result, the RTUs offered will be able to do everything you need them to, without forcing you to buy anything extra.

The RTUs offered will be able to do everything you need them to, without forcing you to buy anything extra.

No off-the-shelf or one-size-fits-all remote monitoring solution is the best on the market for all utility companies. Choosing a custom provider of monitoring equipment allows you to discover the best RTU for each individual location. By compiling a list of monitoring needs, consulting with manufacturers, and comparing offers, you’ll be able to get the perfect built-to-order solution for your unique needs. And that’s what’s important.

DPS Telecom has the experience and expertise to help companies monitor what matters most—including their costs. Our technicians can work with you to find the right RTUs for your specific needs. Reach out and get a quote today!


Image courtesy Unsplash, Nikola Johnny Mirkovic

Andrew Erickson

Andrew Erickson

Andrew Erickson has been building remote monitoring systems for his clients since 2006, both in the United States and internationally. He has been a featured speaker at a variety of national telco, utility, radio, and rail conferences.

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