TV screens are alive with commercials where carriers are gushing about the reliability of their 5G networks. But if their tower sites are not online, it doesn’t matter if the network is 3G, 4G, 5G or even 6G, wireless calls will not be completed.
One company that spends its time making sure those towers stay up and running, Seattle-based Asentria Corporation, also enables telecom networks to be run more efficiently by providing telecom site automation solutions for tower sites.
Tim Stoner, CEO, founded the company 30 years ago as a hardware manufacturer of site devices that interfaced with simple on/off contact closure, alarming PBX switches and phone switches. As telecom systems became more complex and the demand for five nines performance increased, the company expanded the functionality of its applications, according to Jon Baars, Director of Sales & Marketing, Asentria.
Today, Asentria’s SiteBoss appliances manage power, security, and environmental systems at cell towers or other telecommunications sites. The SiteBoss enables automation to extend site life during crisis conditions, and to reduce energy, maintenance, service costs, and environmental impact.
A Humvee, a Satellite Dish and a Parachute: What Could Go Wrong?
The course of Asentria forever changed 20 years ago when it received a contract from the military to put its devices into Humvees outfitted with satellite dishes, which would be dropped from aircraft with a parachute. Asentria’s telemetry equipment monitored the temperature inside the vehicles, power conditions and general health of the communications equipment.
“It was a portent of the company’s mission today,” Baars said. “The humvee project demanded monitoring that was more complicated, which prepared us for the increasingly complex monitoring needs of the wireless industry,” he said.
Another watershed event for Asentria came when it secured a contract with a North American mobile network operator (MNO) with remote cabinet sites at 18,000 telecom sites nationwide, which took the company on a trek toward more sophisticated monitoring.
Asentria began by performing remote DC reboots at the telecom sites in cases where the equipment was malfunctioning. Cellular modems were also integrated into the devices to give them out-of-band wireless control, in cases where backhaul was lost. Eventually, remote control of the site’s power systems with extensive remote visibility was provided for the customer’s network operation center.
Superstorm Sandy Changes the Game
Another customer application was informed by the widespread power outages caused by Superstorm Sandy, in 2012 which caused chaos keeping the backup diesel generators running. The MNO had no visibility into how much fuel was in each diesel generator’s tank, if it was running, or even if the AC power grid was available.
The MNO later approached Asentria looking for a simple IoT device to report the amount of fuel in the generators’ tanks, but its viewpoint evolved as it learned more about the additional data it could acquire from each cell site.
In the end, the MNO opted for an appliance capable of collecting significant data about generators’ alarming and maintenance features, which would provide flexibility to manage other power, security and environmental issues. The system interfaced, not only with the diesel generators, but also with the DC rectifiers, the AC power meters, site security cameras, indoor access control, HVAC systems and smart controllers at the sites.
A Specialized IoT Solution
Asentria approaches telecom site monitoring as a specialized IoT solution compared with more generic IoT solutions that have narrow approaches, according to Baars.
“We approach every situation like it is a data acquisition opportunity and ask the customer what data they need from their sites,” Baars said. “If you’re going to go through the trouble to deploy a solution, is just knowing the diesel fuel level really enough?”
Asentria solutions can update existing legacy contact closure alarms, make diesel or propane fuel measurements, control generator automated transfer switches and manage AC and DC power metering. It can also add rectifier and battery management, physical security like IP cameras and RFID door access, tower lighting systems, HVAC control, DC reboot, out-of-band access and other networking functions.
Plus, Asentria’s hardware has the ability to can also generate telemetry data for comparative site analysis and provide remote access to the underlying systems via RESTful API for OPEX, reducing cell site optimizations. Examples include HVAC control for energy savings, switching power sources between generators and batteries to extend site life in the event of a power outage. Directly interfacing diesel fuel levels or maintenance data to operations support system software allows work orders to be automated for service visits.
Asentria is expanding its market to include tower companies, which are becoming more responsible for providing services at the cell site.
Towercos have more reliance on cellular modems than mobile network operators, which have their own networks. Also, towercos don’t have rack space at the site, while MNOs do. Therefore, Asentria will introduce smaller devices with cellular modems that are designed to be mounted into cabinets.
Today, Asentria designs and manufactures site equipment to solve issues related to power, security, and environment. For specialized site automation needs, the company provides numerous ways that can help MNOs and towercos reduce costs.
“Carriers like to tout the reliability of their networks,” Baars said. “But today they can access telemetry data that can be analyzed for efficiency issues. They can automate site management functions to reduce truck rolls. The endgame is always to improve the reliability and efficiency of the network.”
For more information about Asentria, visit: https://asentria.com/.
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