Delivering a Telecom Cell Site Automation Solution
Asentria is a hardware engineering and manufacturing company that makes a Linux-based cell site monitoring hardware appliance called the SiteBoss. The SiteBoss is installed in telecommunications sites (e.g., cell tower sites) to manage a wide range of applications to improve resilience and efficiency of the network. These applications often relate to environmental management solutions or temperature monitoring systems, access control management, generator fuel management systems, or remote network management and control.
Most often these projects begin with a specific network resilience problem or expected network efficiency that can be gained, such as “before another weather event we need to get a better grasp of real-time diesel fuel levels at sites”, or “it seems like we should be able to interface to an AC power meter to automate power billing to customers that are at a co-located site.”
What do we interface to? Everything.
The basic subsystems that a SiteBoss appliance might be interfaced to at a cell tower site can be categorized into five major types: Power (e.g., AC meters, batteries, or generators), Security (e.g., access control management of door access systems or management of cameras), Environment (e.g., environmental management systems such as HVAC or fans as well as temperature monitoring systems), Active Service Providing Equipment (e.g., remote network management like reboot of RAN or microwave, or out-of-band access to underlying devices or sensors at the site), and Legacy Alarms (e.g., existing Krone, 66, or 110 punch down blocks).
The SiteBoss units might also fulfill some specialized function or need such as providing additional Ethernet ports within a telecom site to preserve physical Ethernet ports on a router or effectively increasing the number of IP addresses on an operator network. In cases where IP Cameras or Ethernet based controllers for telecommunications site monitoring systems or environmental monitoring solutions like HVAC control, rectifiers, or diesel generators are present at a site, the SiteBoss may be used to keep those “smart controller” devices off the primary network via the ability to add Ethernet ports to the SiteBoss. In this way, the cell tower equipment seen as a possible security risk is kept off the primary network.
A key differentiator for telecommunications site vs. more basic “alarming” is the option of interfacing to EVERY device of a particular type. For example, it would be common in a large network to have multiple makes and models of generators. But if you really want comprehensive management of generators, like the ability to exercise large numbers of generators from the NOC, then it is necessary to integrate to all of them regardless of physical interfaces, various protocols, or other differences. The integration process to ALL of the individual subsystems is another critical element to cell site automation.
Integration is Key and Trials are Essential
In order to ensure the successful integration of all site telecom tower equipment, a wide range of additional skills and abilities are employed. The SiteBoss units are modular and over 40 different interface cards are available to accomplish integration to whatever is found at a site. The SiteBoss units are accompanied by the support of Asentria Engineering, our pre-sales or “application engineers” that are key in delivering the best solution.
This support is frequently provided remotely but in larger projects, especially in the early stages, it is not uncommon for engineers to go on-site for the initial trials and work with the operator’s field service personnel. The purpose is to see what telecom tower equipment is available to be interfaced with, decide how to communicate and integrate to the existing cell tower equipment at the sites, how to integrate to existing northbound software like NMS and data analytics software, and to work out documentation about how all of this is accomplished. In addition to the SiteBoss units themselves, Asentria also provides software for specialized functions (e.g., access control monitoring like door access control management), or works with partner software companies to provide integrated solutions.
While implementing such projects, it often happens that some additional features are needed from the SiteBoss. Our Engineering hardware or software development resources will begin to work on specific custom features, which could range from small software adjustments, all the way to new custom hardware appliances. Asentria is very focused on taking specific customer requests and integrating them directly into the products. The strength of the SiteBoss appliances is based on years of customer specific integrations. The importance of this can’t be overstated, as MANY “edge case” situations can only be discovered by doing thousands of site integrations.
Once It Starts, It Doesn’t Really End
When delivering a finalized solution, it is common for the trial phase of a project to conclude with a method of procedure (MOP) explanatory document on how to install the telecom tower equipment. Training on this MOP process is also common at this stage. It might seem that projects would end at this point but it is often only the end of a first phase.
Once the value of cell site automation is understood, then many other site problems appear in a new light. “If we can handle our generators in this way, couldn’t we solve the problems we’re having with our HVAC systems in the same way?” The modular ability of the SiteBoss units allow for further applications to be addressed within the same base unit chassis. For the forward-looking operators, the value that cell site automation brings is perceived as their own proprietary advantage vs. competitive operators, running the network more efficiently and more reliably.
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