Few telecom providers work in a more challenging service area than United Utilities, which serves some of the most isolated communities in rural Alaska. In the face of extreme temperatures and a lack of roads, United Utilities is successfully bringing cellular and Internet service to remote native villages - and improved network reliability management has helped to make it possible.
To understand how much United Utilities has achieved for its customers, you have to understand just how isolated those customers are.
Steve Morgan, who handles telemetry installations for United Utilities, described the village he was working in during a phone interview in October.
"Right now I'm in St. Mary's, installing a NetGuardian in a microwave radio shot," Morgan said. "I don't really know how to describe St. Mary's. There's a couple of hundred people. There's two ways to get in and out, by air or by the river. In the summer you go up the river by boat, in the winter you use a snowmobile."
Over 85% of the population of St. Mary's is native Alaskan. The phone and Internet service provided by United Utilities is one of the primary means of bringing the outside world to St. Mary's and other small villages in the Alaskan interior. This is the core function of United Utilities' telecom division - connecting Alaska's indigenous peoples to the modern world of telecommunications.
"Since we're owned by native corporations of the area, it's part of our charter to provide improved telecommunications service to the residents here," said Jon Duracinski, central office engineering manager for United Utilities.
Before United Utilities was founded in 1977, there just two phones per village in this region, one at the public hospital and another in another public building. Many of the villages had only two phones up into the early 1980s.
United Utilities has drastically improved the availability of phone service in its rural service area, which means a lot in a village like St. Mary's, where the nearest hospital is 130 miles away in the regional hub of Bethel (population 5,471).
"Phone service is absolutely essential in a community like this," said Steve Morgan. "You need a phone for any kind of emergency, like if you need a medevac, or to get supplies. Without a phone you'd be in trouble."
United Utilities also delivers cellular and Internet service to its customers, which has broadened the educational and economic resources available to the residents.
But maintaining essential network services in this part of the world requires a proactive network reliability management strategy. The distance and remoteness of United Utilities' remote sites makes network visibility an absolute necessity.
"Without monitoring, we'd be blind if a site failed. We wouldn't know that it failed or why it failed," said Matt Gross, network analyst for United Utilities.
"We have over 60 sites serving thousands of square miles," Gross said. "Most of these sites are not accessible on the road system, and you can only reach them by small airplane. We don't have the luxury of getting into a car and driving there."
If it's at all possible, repairs at sites like St. Mary's are done by the local United Utilities representative, with advice from United Utilities central office in Anchorage and a technician in Bethel. Remote visibility is essential for ensuring correct repairs.
For years, United Utilities has depended on DPS Telecom's AlphaMax to monitor its cellular sites. "The AlphaMax is great. It's easy to configure and install. And it holds up under our environmental conditions," Gross said.
United Utilities recently expanded its Internet service with microwave radio links in St. Mary's and the neighboring town of Mountain Village that support lower-cost Internet connections for residents there, including a school and local businesses.
"We're providing Internet access via local dial-up. Before now Internet access has meant a long-distance call," said Morgan.
"It's a great feeling knowing you're providing more economical Internet access to the customer," said Duracinski. "It lets the customers do everything from checking something on Google to submitting a job application."
Expansion of Internet service has meant more alarms and a LAN route to carry them, so United Utilities has recently upgraded its monitoring with three NetGuardian units and a T/MonXM WorkStation. The AlphaMaxes, which had been reporting to a computer running stand-alone T/MonDL software, have been integrated with the T/MonXM system.
"With the NetGuardians, we'll be able to carry the right spare parts to repairs," said Duracinski. "We'll also use them to collect historical data, so we can be proactive instead of reactive."
United Utilities personnel said they chose the NetGuardian for their additional monitoring because of its capacity and their positive experience with DPS Telecom products.
The NetGuardians built-in voltage and temperature sensors are also appreciated, since two of United Utilities' biggest problems are power loss and extreme temperatures.
Another advantage of the NetGuardian is its internal modem. "We're using the dial-up path of the NetGuardian has a backup path . That will give us monitoring capability to do something if something goes wrong with the LAN," said Morgan.
The United Utilities team also cited support from DPS Telecom as an advantage. During the transition to NetGuardians and T/MonXM, DPS Telecom ported United Utilities' alarm database from T/MonDL to T/MonXM and provided telephone technical support during the NetGuardian turn-up. Gross, Morgan, and United Utilities technician Milt Garrison attended DPS Factory Training in Fresno this January.
"DPS has been one of the better companies we've worked with in terms of support," said Morgan. "Being able to call and get help with our alarms has made a big difference."
You can get the same network visibility and quality support as United Utilities with the NetGuardian 832A. The NetGuardian has all the tools you need for complete site management, including stand-alone local visibility options. Find out about everything the NetGuardian can do for you on our NetGuardian page. Check it out!
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