17 Steps to Telecom Site Automation
Here are 17 steps to consider when evaluating a telecom site automation solution.
1. Understand What is Available and What Other Operators are Doing
Are you aware of all that could be done, and what IS actually being done by different operators worldwide?
2. Understand Your Current Network
We occasionally hear people say, “We have smart controllers in our rectifier, generator, HVAC, so we don’t need a different controller. In fact, we already have too many controllers”. Most telecom networks have a wide range of equipment makes and ages. A single make of diesel generators could have generations of controllers spanning from those with simple contacts and relays, serial-based MODBUS interfaces, to Ethernet based controllers. Most large networks will have multiple makes of generators as well. Proprietary controllers only manage their own make of equipment. The challenge of making all the different power, security, and environmental equipment equally manageable in a single interface is a large reason why Telecom Site Automation exists.
3. Are You Currently Using an Under-Performing Remote Terminal Unit (RTU)?
There was a time when it was cutting edge to convert simple contact closures to SNMP. In 2019 a specialized “alarm RTU” unit ought to be able to do so much more. Has your current vendor for “alarming” continued to evolve their product? If their device can’t query other intelligent Ethernet based devices you have your first red flag. Are your alarming vendors able to interface to all the power, security, and environmental devices on your network? Beyond just making the physical connections to other controllers, are they willing to do the integration work? Are the controllers tied to some expensive legacy central software in order to fully function?
4. Are You Using Non-Specific Unsupported Devices or Devices Intended For Some Other Purpose to Manage Telecom Sites?
It is possible to use PLC or PLC-like devices for doing simple functions at a telecom site, but most often these generic devices perform poorly without unreasonable development as they are just as likely to be used to manage a manufacturing process as some task in a telecom site. Similarly you have IOT devices that might be able to handle a single variable at your cell site, but most of these devices are woefully inadequate for actually managing the range of elements you need to manage at a telecom site.
5. Base Station End-of-Life Issues / Legacy Alarms
Do you have contact closure alarms that are being terminated to an older generation base station that may be scheduled for de-commissioning? Telecom site automation solutions can simplify the transfer of those alarms from the old base station to a new alarm solution that is not affected by future changes in radio equipment. These alarm changeovers are often an excellent time to look at a more complete telecom site automation solution.
6. Taking the Long View
Will the solution expand or adapt to changes at your sites over time? Your equipment at the site will change. Can you switch out physical interfaces on a solution to match the equipment you need to manage? Will you be tied to a proprietary central software to manage the telecom site automation hardware you have at the sites?
7. Competitive Edge of Telecom Site Automation
It can start as just, “what do we need to do to know the diesel fuel levels at our sites?” There is no reason though, once that issues was solved, that you couldn’t use the same solution to also know the generator run time for maintenance issues. Why not then control the automated transfer switch (ATS) to run the generator? Why not then query the rectifier for data? Run or not run HVAC? Switch off sectors on a radio? Once telecom site automation appliances are in your network, you can use them to solve problems related to any device they can touch. Solutions get better for all users from the work we do to support you, but the integration you create and the resulting improvements to network reliability and efficiency are yours based on how you utilize the devices. The resulting automation and increased resilience and efficiency is a competitive edge for you in operating your network.
These solutions have evolved from decades of past projects in some of the most well-known telecom networks in the world. The majority of edge cases are addressed, or a clear method for addressing similar new situations is clearly defined.
Telecom site automation appliances are very capable device, but they are only a tool for your engineers and ours to work with. Much of what you get when you purchase a telecom site automation solutions is engineering support. Engineers who know the telecom site automation appliances, but also know your site equipment.
Telecom site automation is based on a site appliance. These appliances should have web-based user interfaces that reflect the various values it is reading. It is protocol-based, and designed to be integrated into tools you are already using. A complete telecom site automation company should be able to offer a solution that ranges from a simple appliance, all the way to a complete system.
11. Non-Proprietary Appliance
A telecom site automation system should place as much functionality as possible within the site appliance. A telecom site automation solution provider SHOULD be able to provide software, but the site devices should not be dependent on a central software to operate. A telecom site automation solutions should be protocol-based, utilizing SNMP, RESTful API, browser-based UI, and user accessible scripting languages. It is frequently preferable to use NMS and data visualization software from companies that specialize in that software instead of a mandatory software that is necessary to make the edge appliance fully functional, particularly if a suitable software is already paid for and in your existing network. If a complete solution is needed including software, that should also be available from a telecom site automation provider.
12. Flexibility and Breadth
It is useful to have a range of interchangeable card interfaces to match any need at your sites. If you need a single small unit to do a specific task at a site, then the telecom site automation provider should be able to provide something simple. If you need a complete solution to solve issues for you related to many different issues at a telecom site, a provider should have that too. It is best to have field replaceable interfaces, allowing you to swap out physical interfaces in the field should your needs change.
Are the site appliances designed specifically for telecom sites? Telecom site automation products have eliminated hundreds of “edge case” problems. Products not specific to telecom sites introduce many unanticipated headaches.
14. Total Cost of Ownership
Can you just purchase the site appliance alone? Does the telecom site automation company provide the integration services as part of the cost of the solution? Does the company have experience with doing large numbers of installations? Can the solution provider provide integration to all the site equipment, as well as to existing northbound software? Can they provide their own software if necessary? If you start by using a proprietary software from the provider, but later want to change the software that is used, will the appliances still function correctly? For a dedicated telecom site automation company, these issues will be considered normal and addressed within any telecom site automation solution.
15. Design & Development
A specialized telecom site automation company will work to overcome whatever challenges you encounter at your sites. A telecom site automation should “fit” your site. There is no one size fits all.
16. Manufacturing Ability
A telecom site automation expert should be able to manufacture to suit specific projects and provide specialized services to ship exactly what you need, how and when you need it.
17. Prove it
As there is no mandatory central software or lengthy process to install it needed to do initial deployments of our units, there is no reason you shouldn’t quickly see how a telecom site automation software works. Significant amounts of integration can be done just showing a single appliance in an actual telecom site. You should understand the capabilities of unit within just a couple days.
Interested in reading more about the technical aspects of the hardware that goes into telecom site automation? Check out our free Product Support Portal that has extensive guides and information: