Wireless WAN Saves Utility Companies Time & Money With Remote Management & Monitoring
Utility companies serve thousands or even millions of people across enormous geographic areas, which makes their wide area networks the backbone of their business. When it comes to network connectivity, security, monitoring, and management, utilities require the highest levels of service and flexibility. Downtime hurts not just the bottom line, but also the ability of communities to function.
More and more utilities are turning to cloud-managed LTE solutions to more reliably and effectively connect the many devices, applications, people, and locations that power their businesses. Here are a few reasons why this trend will continue:
Time & Cost Savings
POTS, or Plain Old Telephone Service, lines are expensive to provision and are being phased out by many telecommunication companies; other types of wired networks are even more cost prohibitive. LTE networks are a particularly cost-effective option for utilities because SCADA information, which accounts for most of the data transmitted from remote locations over the network, uses very little cellular data to travel over the network to headquarters.
Compounding the expenses associated with wired connectivity is the fact that when the network goes down, there’s no way to troubleshoot and remediate the issue without sending someone to the location. Alternatively, Cradlepoint’s NetCloud platform makes it possible to control, update, and troubleshoot the network and devices without ever stepping foot on site.
LTE also is a popular, cost-effective failover WAN option and, with the right solution, can enable provide next-generation Out-of-Band Management (OOBM). When a primary wireline router goes down, Cradlepoint’s unique OOBM capability makes it possible for network administrators to leverage the Cradlepoint router to connect to and fix the primary, failed router. Instead of connecting via IP, network administrators can connect to the serial interface as if they were physically present and plugged into the primary router. This is particularly beneficial for utility companies that want to avoid sending IT specialists on-site to deal with each network outage.
Further, Cradlepoint’s Remote Connect feature allows network administrators to remotely access, manage, and troubleshoot any third-party device that’s connected to the network via the Cradlepoint router and resides on the LAN — for example, a printer at a branch office or a security camera on a company vehicle. This functionality allows utilities to avoid unnecessary hardware, software, and IT man-hour expenditures.
Fixed-Site WAN Reliability
Using LTE as a WAN source for fixed-site connectivity helps increase uptime because cellular networks are not subject to the same causes of downtime as wirelines. If a utility company uses a wireline as a primary WAN source at a substation and that link fails, the network can automatically and instantly fail over to an LTE modem through a router. Cradlepoint’s NetCloud Manager will send an alert that the primary link is down while the LTE connectivity keeps the network and all its functions up and running.
For more intelligent path selection, Cradlepoint’s SD-WAN solution enables utilities to route traffic based on bandwidth usage, application content, or preferred link to ensure maximum availability and uptime. Cradlepoint’s active-dynamic WAN configurations smartly assess — with minimal data usage — the health of each WAN link and its ability to run applications.
Utilities also often rely on LTE for in-vehicle network connectivity, serving everything from service trucks to company vehicles that are used as de facto mobile offices. In the latter scenario, servicemen need secure, reliable access to the company’s network so they can view and manipulate work orders and file reports from the field, without constantly returning to headquarters.
Because many utilities serve people and businesses across hundreds or even thousands of miles, their network connectivity solutions must be able to utilize multiple cellular carriers. Using Cradlepoint routers with dual-modem docks and leveraging the NetCloud platform enables network administrators to remotely manage multiple carriers and deploy wireless-to-wireless failover in utility vehicles.
A dual-modem dock also enables the benefits of SD-WAN in a mobile environment. IT teams can set traffic and failover policies in fleet vehicles based on high-level business intent, then rely on routers running Cradlepoint NetCloud OS to detect an outage or a deteriorated link and automatically fail over.
In both fixed and mobile settings, connecting video cameras to utilities’ networks is gaining importance. When there’s a huge storm and power outage, eliciting a flood of customer service phone calls, a utility company with connected cameras at substations can assess damage remotely and hopefully avoid expensive, time-intensive truck rolls.
Video surveillance also helps prevent theft. For instance, copper has become a highly sought commodity. A utility organization looking to protect its copper wires can set up video cameras and sensors that trigger a loud horn to scare away would-be thieves.
When utility companies send employees to remediate the effects of a disaster, wired network access often is unavailable. Utility companies may purchase or prepare a network-in-a-box, which can include an LTE router, a battery, and an all-in-one antenna packed in a ruggedized case. When it’s time to deploy the network-in-a-box, the on-site user simply flips a power switch. The router automatically connects to the network management platform, and the network administrator can conduct any necessary configurations from headquarters.
Remote Monitoring — Fixed & Mobile
Cloud-managed networking over LTE-based broadband offers utility companies unprecedented levels of visibility into and control of crucial aspects of their business. For example, through Cradlepoint’s router Software Development Kit (SDK), many utilities harness general-purpose input/output (GPIO) pins to remotely monitor business functions that take place in remote locations — either at fixed sites or in fleet vehicles.
Utility companies that have boom trucks can use GPIOs to set up automatic notifications each time a boom moves up or down. GPIOs can be leveraged to monitor the status of phase relay switches for state change alerts. They can also report the status of physical things such as waterway gates and valves.
Further, Cradlepoint’s NetCloud Manager allows network administrators to set up geofences. Some utilities set up geofences around their vehicle yards to provide an automatic log of when vehicles come and go. With this information, they can improve forecasting for vehicle maintenance needs.
Contact USAT for more details-