Microwave radio systems are used by telcos, power utilities, railways, and public safety professionals. The effective management of these radios ensures that the services they provide or support (phone, 911, police/fire radio, electricity) are reliable for billions of people worldwide.
The information below is meant for employees and leaders at these types of organizations. Although it has general applicability, remember that you may need supplemental information if you are not a member of this intended audience.
Microwave radio is known as a "line of sight" technology. This is because microwave data is sent between two microwave radio towers in different locations. However, for this transmission to occur, the path between the two microwave radio towers must be clear of any large buildings, mountains, or objects. Such large objects could block microwave communication. Once a clear path has been made, transmissions between antennas on two radio towers can occur.
Due to this need for a clear line of sight, microwave radio towers must be located within miles of one another. The round shape of the Earth prevents larger spacing. To increase the gap between towers, antennas are commonly located high atop microwave radio towers. This allows the transmission of long distance communication. When planning a microwave system, these factors must be considered.
Also important when planning a microwave radio system is providing for remote monitoring. You need the most reliable microwave radio system possible because your customers rely on it. You can significantly enhance this reliability by deploying network monitoring gear in your microwave radio network.
The most basic things to monitor are universal at every remote site, microwave technology or not. You need to monitor equipment alarms that are self-reported by your various transmitters, receivers, switches, etc. You need to monitor environmentals like temperature and humidity. This ensures that your equipment isn't subjected to conditions it can't handle.
Monitoring at a microwave radio site is going to involve a radio tower. Most of the time, this tower will be tall enough to require aircraft obstruction lighting. Government fines and civil liability get really expensive in cases like this. In fact, local government fines can be levied against you even if there's no incident. If you're not monitoring your tower lights in accordance with the law, you'll be fined.
So, how do you monitoring a radio tower? It's honestly quite simple. You have no excuse not to monitor. Most tower light systems will have a contact-closure output to indicate a lighting failure. You can tie this into a remote monitoring device (RTU) so that you can track lighting uptime from your central office. This is far better than other silly options like paying a person to look at the lights once a day. Modern automated solutions are way more effective and affordable.
It's all too easy to view remote monitoring equipment as a cost center. It feels like a waste most of the time because you don't need it very often. You're paying premiums month after month, and nothing happens. When you do have an incident, though, that insurance pays for itself all at once. Imagine the horror of not having protection when you need it.
Although you might think of it as network hardware, remote monitoring gear is conceptually quite similar to insurance. You purchase it and install it under the assumption that something will go wrong someday. You don't know when that day will come, but you know that a lot of money will be on the line. A solid monitoring system can diffuse a lot of threats. It can often pay for itself after preventing just one incident.
If you can avoid one government fine or a few hours of costly network downtime, you've now paid for your remote monitoring. Any other threats the system detects during its lifetime is the icing on the cake.
Knowing what's happening at your remote sites doesn't just improve your finances during rare emergencies. You can actually get an operational benefit every day.
Consider generator fuel management. Whether you use propane (LPG) or diesel for your backup generators, you need to know when to fill your tanks. Without good remote visibility, you'll have to drive out to your microwave sites on a simple schedule to check levels. If you install level sensors on your fuel tanks, you won't waste time and fuel like this. You'll know if you need to refuel a tank.
There's also response speed to small problems. If you get good alarm messages, you can plan the best time to visit. You can take the right parts. You can send the right people.
Compare that to always reacting to last-minute revelations. You get a call from a customer letting you know your service is out. You have to race a tech out to a site to see what's happening. Then you have to send someone else to bring a spare part. The clock is ticking this whole time and money is flying out the door.
This is a great example where it's more expensive to be stingy. When it comes to remote monitoring, pay for a good system. You're going to be using it for at least 5-10 years. It will pay you back many times over.
Monitoring your microwave data and important microwave radio gear will decrease your network downtime by instantly informing you of growing problems throughout your network. RTUs are one of the core pieces of these monitoring systems. The most advanced RTUs, such as the NetGuardian 832A, will help you to collect these vital alarm messages. This enables your alarm master to send pager and email alerts to the network tech.
With inputs for 32 discrete alarms and 8 analog alarms, the NetGuardian 832A can monitor all of your microwave radio gear at your remote sites. It will allow you to verify that these important devices are online by pinging up to 32 elements. It will also allow you to remotely control your microwave gear with 8 controls. The NetGuardian can even serve as your terminal server with the 8 built-in serial ports. For sites without LAN, the KDA 864 RTU can also provide you with these important monitoring functions.
You need to know that your microwave radio gear is operating well. Don't let your customers be the first to tell you of a problem. Deploy a microwave monitoring system. You might use the NetGuardian 832A or KDA 864 RTU. You might choose different RTUs for different circumstances. Just make sure you work with experts to design a monitoring system that is a great fit for your requirements.
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