My Boss Told Me to Go Find an IoT Solution Management for Cell Tower Sites
I have recently heard someone say that their boss tasked them to find an IoT (Internet of Things) solution to manage multiple cell tower site locations. It didn’t seem like the focus was on what the IoT solution would do, but it was important that it was IoT. It seemed that they thought that what Asentria did was somehow different than IoT. This conversation has had me thinking about where Asentria fits in the world of IoT, and how we explain ourselves, and what we’ve called cell site automation to the world.
In this article, I will cover what cell site automation is and how Asentria’s products are involved in the IoT space:
What is Cell Site Automation?
Cell site automation means several cell site locations, where each has an Asentria SiteBoss unit to gather data from, control, or allow access to the specialized attached pieces of equipment or sensors at the site. The broadest categories of types of equipment at a cell site fall into categories like Power (e.g., Generators, DC Rectifiers, AC and DC Meters), Security (e.g., Cameras, Door Access Control Solutions), and Environment (e.g., Cooling Methods, Temperature Measurements). There could also be elements related to Remote Access for gaining communications access to smart devices at a cell site from the network operations center (NOC). Some elements include: DC Reboot applications for re-booting DC powered telecom equipment or Legacy Alarm applications where it is useful to keep an existing alarm scheme but update the method in which those alarms communicate. Cell site automation at a single site is most accurately described as a machine to machine (M2M) application. When we do this across potentially thousands or tens of thousands of sites, the resulting applications are IoT or the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT).
The SiteBoss is an M2M Device Specifically for Cell Sites
When Asentria starts considering a telecom network operator’s solution, we begin by identifying what we will find at the cell sites themselves. In most large telecom networks, you will have a variety of makes and models of equipment. Consider the issue of Power described above. You could have a solar array in a very remote tower location, a diesel generator for primary power or emergency back-up, DC rectifiers, and AC or DC meters for customer billing. Probably you will have at least the DC rectifier, but most of those other equipment types mentioned may or may not be present and frequently will only be present in SOME sites. And you will have different makes, models, and ages of all of that equipment and different customers will have different business purposes to accomplish.
Asentria spends a lot of time talking about the site-specific issues above. These issues are critical to solving to create a solution that can drive reliable decisions or actions. The SiteBoss units we make are highly flexible, and we frequently integrate them “northbound” to some existing software within an organization. This methodology probably doesn’t match what people expect when they think of IoT. Many IoT companies are defined more by the cloud-based software platform they offer than by the specific devices used at sites to generate data. Notably, the SiteBoss is flexible enough that it could likely be integrated with ANY IoT platform a customer preferred to use.
Considerations of IoT Company Services and Offerings
When people think of an IoT company, many people probably start with an idea of an impressive-looking cloud-based software showing all their sites that enables many future-looking applications. The “sensors” reporting to the software are a relative afterthought and not considered how complex the task is to acquire and normalize the data from the sites. It is evident when customers have failed when they’ve tried to use solutions that are not specific to telecom sites, like building automation IoT solutions.
We have seen a case where an “IoT provider” tried to provide a solution to measure diesel fuel levels across many cell sites. They had a small communication device and were somewhat dismayed by the fact that the diesel tanks were not all of the same size, shape and had different mounting methods for their sensor. It was questionable whether it was worth traveling to every site and installing if all the solution would tell you was the diesel fuel level. To make valuable decisions or take valuable actions, you’d most often want to know more than just any single variable from a site.
Ultimately, to do a cell site automation project across large numbers of sites, the cost of deploying a solution has to be justified by the value of the actions or decisions you can take using the solution. It’s all about this return-on-investment (ROI). In that regard, we do have our eyes on what the broader IoT industry is doing. We are creating new smaller hardware to meet more focused cell site automation applications. We’ve worked with cellular modems for many years but are working to create newer, more reliable, and cost-effective ways to communicate on cell modem networks. We’re looking at new northbound communication methods to communicate to a wider variety of software to manage the data from our devices. All of these improvements are driving in the direction of making our products look more like what people expect when you think of IoT.
Asentria is an IoT Company
Maybe we’ve played down how we ARE an IoT company because there has been so much unfulfilled hype regarding IoT. We were afraid that we’d be perceived as a theoretical solution when we’ve been providing solutions for 30 years. We fully deployed a cell modem solution to 18K sites for a US mobile network operator almost 10 years ago. Related strictly to wireless communication backhaul, we must have been among the first large scale deployments of that technology. On the other hand, maybe by being associated too closely with an M2M device, we’re in danger of being thought of as old fashioned or “not what the boss wants.” Many good ideas come from the IoT space, and we see opportunities to work with IoT platform companies as the specialized devices that go into telecom sites.
Asentria IS an IoT company. An IoT company specializing in cell site automation for the purpose of creating specific cell site IoT solutions and networks. Maybe it is time we embrace our roots.