How Much Does an RTU Cost?

If you are searching for RTU options because you need to remotely monitor your microwave sites or power substations, or maybe even just a simple server closet, one of biggest questions on your mind must be: How much does an RTU cost? What kind of budget I need to allow it for?

We will look at the price range for RTUs. Then we will cover the specific factors that affect where an RTU will fall within that range. Finally, we will look at specific price tiers so you can understand - for a certain amount of money - what you are able to buy.

The possible RTU price range is enormous. It can include a super affordable model (that may not have ultimate reliability) for around $200 (USD). But it can also include a top-end RTU that is bomb-proof with a proven design and many functions for $3000-$5000 (USD).

Which factors affect RTU prices?

1. Features

These are the #1 factor to determine the price of your RTU (as with any product). The more value an RTU generates for you, the more it's worth.

  • Inputs/Outputs (I/O)

    On an RTU, we have 3 major types of I/0: discrete inputs, analog inputs, and control relay outputs. If you need 2 discretes, 4 discretes, or even 8 discretes to monitor doors, sensors or equipment alarms, then you'll need a fairly small RTU. But if you need 32 or 64 discrete inputs, then you'll need a larger and more expensive one.

    It's important to determine whether you need analogs and control relays and, if you do, how many of them you need. The combination of discretes, analogs, and control relays that you need is one of the biggest factors to impact your RTU price.

  • Transport

    You can find simple wired LAN available on even the cheapest RTUs. But if you need systems like a cell modem, legacy transport, or a satellite uplink, then they will cost more.

  • oltage Conversion

    You might have a -48V site and a -48V RTU, but also a +12V sensor. Some RTUs will convert the voltage internally and give you an output so you can power that sensor easily.

  • IP Switch

    Some devices also include a 4-port or 7-port 10/100 network switch, so you will be able to give LAN to other devices at the site using an RTU, not another less reliable switch.

  • Protocols

    Some manufacturers have their own proprietary protocol. They might try to sell a certain part of the solution, perhaps the RTU, at a lower price. They do this because they know that, once you buy it, you'll be trapped into paying for their overpriced and underpowered master station to go along with it. To free up your purchasing options, look for SNMP, DNP, or Modbus - or any other open standard protocol that is supported by many manufacturers.

  • Built-in Intelligence

    A basic RTU will only do the basics. It will not have features like the alarm qualification timers (that is when the RTU is able to filter alarms based on how long they have been standing) or derived alarm logic (for example, you could receive a more urgent alert when 2 different alarms are active at the same time).

  • Specialty Form Factors

    A typical RTU is 19-inch or 23-inch rack-mountable. Some are wall-mountable. Paying extra, though, you would be able to get remotes that are fully designed to mate with a particular product or to mount in a unique configuration at the top of a certain rack.

    One example from the DPS catalog involves a particular radio that was not SNMP capable, because it is a legacy device. DPS developed a remote (RTU) that attached to that radio. All the ports were in exactly the right place. There was even a screw that engaged with a particular screw hole on the back of the radio. So, paying a little extra for something like that is going to be ultimately worthwhile because it is a perfect-fit solution.

2. Build Quality and Location

When thinking about quality, keep one thing in mind if you opt to buy a very cheap RTU: the internal components are one of the best ways for any manufacturer to reduce cost. After all, parts must be purchased for each and every unit they build.

When thinking about manufacturing location, is the RTU assembled in the US or Canada or is it assembled overseas? This has a big impact on the manufacturer faces and the minimum price that they are able to charge - and also a big impact on the final quality of your RTU.

3. Included Services

These have more to do with the total cost of ownership than with the price of the RTU hardware/software itself. Included services are things that you might otherwise have to pay for later if they're not bundled in with your initial purchase.

  • Pre-Sales Consultation

    A consultation that the sales department gives to you before you even buy anything. You'll simply explain what you're trying to achieve, and the sales department will create a diagram to explain clearly which RTU will match your exact requirements.

  • Tech Support and Training

    As you know, tech support and training are tremendously important and potentially very expensive. Can you get these services for free after your purchase, or do you have to pay hourly rates for them?

  • Custom Product Development

    A manufacturer that charges a reasonable price, not a "bare bones" company, will have some ability to customize their products for you. They control their process to make changes - either to the firmware or maybe even to the hardware - which helps you to get a perfect-fit solution for your particular needs.

  • Free Firmware Updates

    Does you manufacturer provide regular firmware updates to give you newly developed features? Do you have to pay for these updates, or are they included for free? You might not consider this during your initial purchase, but down the line - when you want a new feature that has been developed - you might be stuck paying for it if you didn't choose your RTU wisely.

  • Compliance Testing

    A manufacturer that is charging a little bit more probably has more resources to devote to in-house testing, whether that means using an EMI chamber, a heat chamber, or a cold chamber (the best manufacturers use all 3). Even better, they can certify against a particular requirement that you may have. If you have a governmental/corporate regulation with a number that you must satisfy (ex. "Fire Code 34829"), ask any potential manufacturer whether they can certify themselves against that requirement.

4. Distribution Channel

If you are buying a remote that comes from a manufacturer, then goes through a large regional distributor, then to a more local distributor, and then to you, you'll inevitably pay more. At each stage along the chain, there's another company that has to take out a little bit of profit in order to stay in business.

You can eliminate that chain if you find a manufacturer to buy directly from. Then, you can actually create some savings because you do not have all those middlemen in the way adding to your price.

How much will I pay for certain RTU feature sets?

Now, let's take a look at several specific types of RTUs - and what you can expect to pay for each. We'll start at the bottom and work our way up:

The Cheapest Possible RTU

The bare-minimum RTU will cost around $200-$300 (USD). These can technically be considered RTUs, and they could be perfect for you in the right kind scenario. If you're hobbyist or you have just a server room where you're not monitoring at all, the cheapest RTU you can buy is better than nothing. Keep in mind, however, that a $200 RTU will not be most reliable device - and it certainly won't be the most full-featured.

The bare-minimum RTU will cost around $200-$300.

Here's what you can expect to get with a very cheap RTU:

  1. Small Input/Output Counts

    These RTUs will have 2-4 discretes, or maybe 8 if you're lucky. If you get any analogs or relays at all, you'll probably just get 1 or 2 of each.

  2. Built-in Intelligence

    The built-in intelligence is going to be quite limited. You will surely be able to see which alarms are set and which alarms are clear. But you probably won't have many features when it comes to programming your own simple logic equations or setting delays that help you filter out nuisance alarms. That means that a cheap RTU will do the basics of remote monitoring - but not much else.

  3. Web Interface

    Technology has come to a point where even the cheapest RTU will most likely have a web interface.

  4. Protocol Support?

    Ultra-low-cost RTUs might not support the protocol you need (or any at all if they only have a web interface). Make sure to check that out before you buy.

  5. Email Alerts

    Is your device able to send email alerts? These are very convenient, especially if you have just a few deployed RTUs. They will send emails directly to you. You won't need a central master station if you have 10 RTUs or less (beyond that number, it's difficult to manage them all separately).

  6. Low-Grade Circuit Components

    It's a virtual guarantee at this price level that you will get low-grade circuit components. The components alone would cost more than $200 if they were high-grade.

  7. Not Made in USA

    The product will certainly not be made in the US or Canada. The labor costs could not be covered by such an inexpensive price.

  8. No Tech Support or Training

    In order to get tech support or training, you will have to pay for those services. It may cost as much as the RTU itself for every hour you need support (if support is even offered at all). You really need to consider support in your true cost of ownership when looking at such an inexpensive device.

  9. No Customization

    The RTU will be an off-the-shelf product. Since there is no ability to make adjustments, you won't have any other options if the device doesn't meet your needs.

  10. No Guaranteed Future Availability

    A company that makes remotes in such a cheap way is doing it so at razor-thin margins, probably manufacturing a huge number of products and selling them to a mass market. They will not have any reason to guarantee that, for some specific number of years, your specifc device moden will be available. If you need to order more of it, you'll be out of luck. This company will update their design whenever necessary (most likely to deal with rising costs), and you won't be able to get the same model again. This will create confusion (and potentially technical incompatibilities) for you and your team.

The Cheapest "Full Service" RTU

This the next part of the price range. For around $700, you can expect get the cheapest possible full-service RTU.

The cheapest "full service" RTU will cost around $700.

Here's what you can expect to get with a cheap - but still "full service" - RTU:

  1. Small Input/Output (I/O) Counts

    These RTUs still have small input and output counts, perhaps around 4-8 discretes and a few of relays and analogs. Compared to the cheapest possible RTU, you're not seeing a massive gain in capacity. Your gains will be in terms of functionality and quality.

  2. Strong Built-in Intelligence

    These RTUs will have some built-in intelligence, like qualification timers and/or alarm processing logic.

  3. Web Interface

    These RTUs will have a web interface.

  4. Open Protocol Support

    There will be some kind of open protocol at this level, like SNMP, DNP, or Modbus.

  5. Email Alerts (+SMS via gateway)

    You should definitely have email alerts at the $700 price tier. And you should also be able to send those emails to your wireless provider's gateway to convert them to SMS. That way, you can get either email or text messages to your phone.

  6. Quality Circuit Components

    Once you hit this price level, make sure that any manufacturer that you choose is using quality circuit components. The RTU should be generally reliable and not break down. Look for impressive customer lists, test results, and customer references that you can call yourself.

  7. Made in USA

    At this price range, finding remotes that are made in the US or Canada starts to become possible. That can create quality gains and also opportunities to get customization.

  8. Free Tech Support and Training

    Free tech support and training must be demanded at this level. You should not be paying extra after you have already paid $700 or more for the remote. So, go with the manufacturer that provides these services for free.

  9. Customization Potential

    When products are made in the US, the US-based companies have the ability to control the whole manufacturing process. That opens room for some customization potential - especially useful when you have any special requirements.

  10. Guaranteed Future Availability

    If a manufacturer is charging this price, it should be able to guarantee future availability. The design should be available for a certain number of years. This allows you to confidently standardize on it. Look elsewhere if a company is trying to charge you this amount of money and will not give you any guarantees.

The NetGuardian 832A G5 boasts several enhancements from previous NetGuardian models - which include advanced hardware, increased processing speed, and enhanced security options. The TempDefender is a small device that keeps tabs on all the environmental levels and equipment alarms surrounding your servers, phone closets, data centers, and other equipment locations.

Medium "full service" RTUs:

When we step up the capacity, keeping everything else exactly the same, we will have a medium full-service RTU. They will be in the $1100 range (USD).

Medium "full service" RTUs will cost around $1100.

These remotes will have around 16 discretes, and usually 2-8 of analogs and 2-8 relays. They are medium-sized, but everything else from the small full-service RTU list (see above) remains the same. You should expect excellent quality, excellent service, free training, and free tech support. The only difference is the bigger capacity.

Purpose-built RTU:

The middle of RTU industry price range is about $2500 (USD). For that price, you can get yourself a purpose-built RTU. These remotes will have fully customized transport and protocol exactly the way that you need them. The mounting and the form factor - if you need something special beyond 19"/23" rack mount - can be designed in a custom way that mates with an existing product or fits in a tight cabinet, etc. At this price range, all kinds of customizations are possible. Find a manufacturer that will give you them.

Purpose-built RTUs will cost around $2500.

You might have legacy mediation so that the RTU can actually process legacy protocols on-site. It will convert them to something like an SNMP trap, and then send that back to your central manager.

With these RTUs, you can also get high input and output counts. You might have 32 or 64 discrete inputs, 8-16 analogs, and 8-16 control relays.

For these products, you will be getting built-in quality. That's because, in order to get customizations, you have to have a manufacturer who has control over their whole process in-house.

Be careful, however. Make sure you're dealing with a company who's being doing customizations for a while. They should have a strong collection of design elements and not be inventing everything from scratch. This way, they're just assembling a new design for you that has, maybe, one new thing. The rest of your custom RTU will simply be a unique arrangement of features that have already been proven in other designs.

Full "legacy + modern" RTU:

These RTUs have legacy capability, which means that they can deal with legacy transport and legacy equipment in modern networks. Basically, the reality of any modern evolved network is that it has all kinds of different equipment ages in it.

Nearing the top of the industry price range at $4000-$5000 (USD), you'll generally pay more for an RTU with advanced "legacy + modern" capabilities. But the advantages are obvious.

RTUs that have legacy capabilities will cost around $4000-$5000.

You might see multiple transports and protocols. For example, you might have a dial modem (POTS), plus a serial connection (RS232/RS485), plus LAN. You might have multiple different protocols, so you can send across different transport from the same remote (and even fail over from one to the next to the next).

High input/output counts are a given in this price range. You can see 64 or even 80 discretes, 16 or maybe even 32 analogs, and 16-32 relays.

At this price, this RTU can be totally customized for you. Whatever you need can be designed and built to your exact specifications (good manufacturers can do this will a minimum order of about a dozen units). Expect nothing but top-quality components, excellent manufacturing, and future guarantees.

How much will your RTU really cost? It depends.

I've given you a brief overview of the major factors and price tiers in the RTU marketplace. The exact price of your RTU will really depend on your individual needs.

Contact DPS Telecom for a free consultation (1-800-693-0351 or sales@dpstele.com). Just tell an expert what you're trying to accomplish. You'll get an exact price for a perfect-fit RTU. We'll always include with any sales proposal:

  • A list of the requirements we heard from you

  • What we propose to meet each of your requirements

  • A full text explanation with technical details

  • A complete application drawing customized for your network and future RTU

A DPS sales proposal will help you make sure that any RTU you consider is the perfect match for you and your network.

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