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What You Should Consider When Buying Your First RTU

Starting a new remote installation offers some fantastic opportunities. Instead of having to work around legacy RTUs to monitor your network, a fresh build-out can address the latest in feature advancements and network needs.

It may seem a bit overwhelming at first, but a new site build offers a degree of freedom for planning that is unconstrained by past purchases and equipment compatibilities. Features of the equipment you install can be carefully thought out in advance and, as a result, planned as a complete system, versus a hodgepodge of assembled equipment cobbled together over the years with a mix of compatibility and reliability. In addition, other factors relevant to your operation can be addressed in the planning, such as:

  • Factory support after the sale
  • Ease of equipment serviceability
  • Integration with other potential site equipment
  • Simplicity and reliability of the operation

These should be guideposts for designing a remote installation from scratch.

Monitoring needs vary across industries. There is no "one-size-fits-all" when it comes to your network. What features should be incorporated into your RTU implementation? Individual applications will depend on a variety of factors such as industry, number of alarm points and types, communications protocols, and other equipment in the network that will need to interface with the RTU and site. However, most remote sites will have a few components that will be standard in every location regardless of industry. These locations, and your budget, will benefit from installing gear that combines elements from multiple types of devices into one rack mount unit. This simplifies your operation, and also helps make your accounting department happy. Let's see how this might look in a typical application.

Some Aspects Will Be Consistent in Most Installations- No Matter your industry

No matter what the business purpose of your remote telecom site is, there are some factors that are pretty much the same across industries. There will be equipment on site that requires monitoring. A Remote Telemetry Unit (RTU) is used to provide vital information regarding the status of the equipment and other environmental conditions that are important for the site to maintain the service it was designed to provide. The size and scope of the unit will depend on the site and the equipment being monitored. You probably have a good idea of what an RTU is and what you want it to monitor for you already. So what else do you need?

All sites will need to have a fuse panel of some sort. This is typically a junction box with the appropriate number of fuses to protect the equipment at the site from electric surges in the system. This is a separate box with multiple fuses, and is rack mounted.

A Power Distribution Unit (sometimes referred to as a PDU) is similar in function to a high-tech power strip: it allows the main power system to be divided up to the many different pieces of equipment on site. A key feature of these units is the ability to remotely 'cycle' the power on and off to a device plugged into it. The ability to remotely control this 'on/off' functionality is a valuable feature, especially if the site is quite remote. These include a fuse panel as a part of the unit already, making a separate fuse panel unnecessary.

Obviously, there will be other equipment that would be part of a typical remote site, but most often all locations would have some form of RTU, and fused power distribution. Many sites would consider a back up generator and environmental controls like air conditioning essential, and they are. But for the sake of simplifying the scope of this discussion, we'll boil down the essentials to PDUs and RTUs.

Careful Planning Helps The Budget

The economic reality today is companies are asked to do more with less: Less money, less resources, less personnel. Let's consider what we might have a this location if it was a typical communications hut:

  • A generator
  • an HVAC unit
  • a rack with a fuse panel
  • a power distribution panel
  • an RTU
  • multiple communications routers
  • microwave transceivers
  • video monitors and cameras

Sound expensive? Of course it is. Reducing this list would help lower the cost, but if you need the functionality of all the listed equipment, you might feel as though you need to either opt for a lower quality product, or begin cutting key features you need but can't afford: two bad options. You can't just get rid of things that are essential to the operation of a reliable network. However, there are ways to stretch a budget without compromising your site's effectiveness.

Look for combinations that make sense

Products that combine features of various standalone units into one unit is a way of doing this. Take for instance, a power distribution unit. This unit will have many of the other rack units plugged into it, and comes with fuse protection (a fuse panel) built into it. This is a logical combination and simplifies the arrangement on the rack. Fewer wires, less rack space, better for the site. It saves money, as the combined unit lowers your out of pocket expenses for the installation. Taking it a step further, a unit that combines the power distribution function, with an RTU, saves money, saves rack space, simplifies the installation and creates better operational efficiency.

Do You Have a Specific Example?

One such 3-in-1 unit is the AB6 Remote Power Switch by DPS and it has been popular for just this sort of application. It simplifies installation by including the functionality of a NetGuardian 216 (2 controls and 16 discrete connections) and a power distribution unit with built in fuse panel. The AB6 has all the traditional functionality of a Remote Telemetry Unit, and the ability to control high power devices normally associated with a standalone power distribution panel. It is an RTU and a PDU with switchable outlets. This makes for a unique solution to reducing the expense of a typical remote installation by combining features into one unit. Expect to pay a bit more for this kind of hybrid unit than a regular RTU alone, but much less than multiple standalone units would cost.

What Else Works Like This?

Combining functionality into one rack unit can also work for other applications. For example, a fiber site can suffer the same clutter issues. The location will need a fiber router, as well as an RTU. That will take two rack spaces, double power wiring, extra heat generation, and additional expense buying 2 separate units. A unit combining a fiber connection with an RTU streamlines the installation and cost, as well as reliability on-site: less equipment means fewer units to potentially break.

A NetGuardian 216F is a great little work horse for a location like this. It combines a fiber router with a versatile RTU that fits many industrial applications. Some sites are still connected via T1 and there's a 216T for those as well. No need for a separate transport card, it's all part of the package.

While we're at it, need VoIP Order wire at a remote site? How many times have you heard a tech complain there is no cell service at a remote site (a bad sign if you are a cell provider!) and they have needed to communicate from the locale? An RTU that combines order wire and monitoring into one unit follows this same concept of economy and simplicity. You have the connectivity, either via LAN or microwave, why not use it to connect your location with orderwire? Again, simplifying the system saves you more money and space, and increases reliability.

Simplicity, Reliability, and Affordability

Sometimes your hands are tied to existing equipment. Almost all of us have had to make due when times were tough, and soldier on with the current set up. But occasionally, when the opportunity presents itself, planning out a new site build can offer some interesting cost savings by combining the functions of multiple units into one. Whether it's the three-in-one approach like we discussed in the AB6 Remote Power Switch, or combining other transport elements together within an RTU, reducing the number of units in a typical site installation can be a real bottom-line improvement when you need to save budget dollars.