How to Automate Everything at your Telecom Sites
I did an interview once with a publication whose leading question was, “why do so many remote monitoring system (RMS) installations fail?” Having done these projects for as long as we have, we were not aware that projects failed with any frequency, but suspect that a lot of this comes from an underestimation on both the part of vendors and telecom operators of what is needed to successfully interface to all the existing equipment found at cell sites within a large-scale telecom network operations center.
Using back-up generators as an example, a large mobile network operator (MNO) might have 4-5 different makes of generators in their network operations center, and within each make they might have several different ages and models. The means of interfacing to each of these generators is often completely different. If you started off with a goal to manage your entire network of generators, you are then faced with the problem of how you will interface to all the different generators in the network. If you can’t successfully interface to them all, then the value of the resulting solution begins to decline. We used generators as an example, but the issue is the same with many other sub-systems at a site, such as: HVAC systems, door access systems, DC plant, etc.
Don’t Lower the Project Scope
A related issue is the scope of the project. A poor way of solving the problem of having all the different generator types is to reduce the level of integration done. When someone says, “We can monitor your generators,” what exactly do they mean? Is it simply a contact closure indicating a fail to start alarm? Does the solution go on to measure fuel level? Is the fuel level calculation calibrated to a fuel tank type to give you an accurate fuel level whatever the level is, or do you just get an alarm when fuel level gets low? Once you get to alternative fuel types like liquid propane (LP), or natural gas (for rooftop sites), is there a solution? Finally, is the solution proven enough to take over exercising of the generators by interfacing with the automatic transfer switch (ATS) of the generator?
A fully integrated generator/SiteBoss combination is going to give whatever alarm and telemetry data is possible, including generator run times, fuel level information in detail, and ability to exercise generators on schedules or on demand. What is important is that the most important alarm and telemetry data, and the ability to remotely control the generator is possible regardless of what the generator is at the site. If we haven’t integrated to a generator you have, then it is our task to figure out how to interface to it.
In some future post we’ll expand further on what can be done with the data above. For this example, the point is that the initial goal was to manage the network of generators. In most telecom operators, there is some centralized monitoring location(s). A network operations center (NOC) or similarly named location. We refer to the NOC as being “northbound” from the SiteBoss units in the remote locations. In the NOC there are typically a number of different pieces of software running. You would likely have a network management software (NMS), which receives alarms from many different types of equipment via the Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP). Along with the NMS there might be trouble-ticketing software, and then even further northbound systems like OSS/BPM systems, and more commonly now, data visualization and upcoming machine learning and AI type systems. The SiteBoss units can interface to these existing systems through the SiteBoss’ RESTful API or SNMP interfaces.
Once the SiteBoss has been integrated to all the “south-bound” site equipment, the “north-bound” software is much more easily able to perform network-wide functions. If the personnel in the NOC decided they wanted to do an exercise of generators across an entire region, they can easily do this using specific software tools that enable you to just click a box for “run generators in the entire region”, or click boxes for individual sites you wish to run. You select sites, click “start”, and that is it. What is important is that the SiteBoss unit has removed the underlying complexity that you started with by having a wide variety of different makes and models of generators with different methods of being started.
Another example is fuel levels. The SiteBoss may be measuring a fuel sensor that was installed in the site in one case, and interfacing to a generator smart controller for fuel level in another case. For the purposes of the NOC, the differences are transparent. The complex and varied data from all the different generator types has been “flattened”. You just receive the fuel level from the SiteBoss without needing to care how it is being derived. You would want the value to be a “real world value” like liters or gallons, and not some value that the telecom site automation device is recording like a voltage, or some other value that needs to be converted to something meaningful. A SiteBoss could even create its own new values if necessary. For example you could measure an absolute real world value of the fuel (400 liters) as well as create a new value that would be used for refueling purposes of what percentage of “full” that amount of fuel represents.
Telecom Site Automation as a Competitive Edge
Large mobile network operators are now pursuing network-wide telecom site automation projects seeking a competitive edge in the operations of their networks vs. other operators who may not be aware that telecom site automation is possible. Once the idea of “flattening” the data as described above is understood, you could easily see how it could be applied to other sub-systems using the same SiteBoss device. By adding an additional hardware interface card in the SiteBoss, the same SiteBoss that was described above that is managing generators could also begin to manage HVAC, door access control systems, cameras, DC plant, AC metering, and other sub-systems. Using telecom site automation an operator can create their own solutions to enable a more resilient or efficient network operations center than their competitors.
Telecom Site Automation Applications
For a more complete look at the applications possible using telecom site automation, download our “Telecom Site Applications Overview” guide.
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