Alpha Omega Wireless Blog

Hardened Wireless Backhaul for Utilities

Posted by Joe Wargo on Fri, Feb 07, 2014 @ 02:21 PM

There are a lot of wireless communication radio manufacturers to choose from when designing a wireless backhaul network. A wireless Ethernet bridge can provide bandwidth speeds of a few Kbps to Gbps+ can be achieved.  Today using point to point wireless backhaul, such as licensed microwave communications, can provide over GigE full duplex wireless communications.  Unlicensed outdoor wireless Ethernet bridge systems can provide over 300Mbps wireless throughput. Point to multipoint wireless systems using unlicensed wireless communications can achieve upwards of 300Mbps and technologies like LTE and WiMax can provide over 40Mbps of wireless communications. 

Utilities, such as water (both clean and waste), oil & gas, and electrical, are large users of wireless communication. Utilities typically cover a large geographic service area and have many end points where there is a need for data communications. It becomes physically impossible or at least cost prohibitive to run fiber communications to hundreds of sites that the utilities need communication. Wireless backhaul solves the utilities’ needs and provides them with a means to better monitor and control their infrastructure in the field.

Historically, utilities only needed and used serial communications to monitor field controls, like flow valves, PLC’s and RTU’s, temperature and pressure gages, relays, etc. Over the past several years we have seen that the whole utility industry is migrating to IP based communications for all their field devices and serial communications are going away. So with that many utility organizations have been replacing traditional SCADA telemetry wireless communications with outdoor wireless Ethernet backhaul.

Utilities are building complete wireless backhaul networks to service their territories. Licensed microwave links are being used for a backbone network. Last mile wireless Ethernet bridge systems, like point to multipoint wireless connectivity, LTE, and WiMax are being deployed to wirelessly connect field facilities. Two-Way radio, LTE, and WiMax are being deployed to provide mobility wireless communications. By doing so utilities are making the jump to wireless Ethernet communication to handle their IP networking needs and are also taking the advantage of the higher bandwidth they get with wireless backhaul.

One major problem the utility industry faces is that with so many different wireless Ethernet bridge technologies manufacturers out there many are buying the wrong wireless communication systems. Utilities are usually operating in harsh environments. Weather is always one concern, but many utilities have to contend with various chemicals, EMI (Electromagnetic Interference), and other situations that can cause damage to many of the typical commercial wireless backhaul systems that are used for other industries.

There is specific wireless backhaul manufactured equipment that has been designed to meet the demanding environments most utilities have. Special radio communication systems have been made to handle environments that contain chemicals, have high exposure to salt air, and even to combat EMI in electrical substations.

For licensed wireless backhaul, companies like SAF Tehnika has launched their new Integra microwave communication radio platform. The Integra uses a special aluminum alloy and stainless steel parts that resistant to corrosion. This includes the antenna and mounting brackets. Many wireless bridge systems used for microwave backhaul have the radio in a die cast housing.  If the enclosure is die-casted it means that the metal is melted, which makes it porous. Although all typical die-casted enclosures are covered with special paint, there still are places were the paint ends and water can easily get into the pores and start corroding. Other outdoor wireless system use NEMA type housings for the radio, but the other parts are not protected for harsh environments. The Integra is fully protected from top down.

SAF Integra

Siemens RuggedCom has been known for years for making hardened industrial switch components. Their WiMax platform is just as hardened as their networking equipment. The RuggedCom RuggedMAX WiMax platform is specially made to handle the utility environment. The RuggedCom WiMax base stations and subscriber units are specially designed to handle EMI, which is great for Smart Grid applications, and can be deployed within electrical substations and on structures around high voltage, which we see in the Oil & Gas and Water utility environments.

RuggedMAX Wimax

CalAmp DataRadio has a full line of hardened wireless communication products that have been proven in the utility industry for SCADA backhaul. Their VHF/UHF Viper SC+ radio also gives utilities that are slowly migrating from wireless serial communications to IP based wireless communications. The Viper SC+ can be deployed in a hybrid environment giving the utility all the time needed to slowly convert over their PLC’s and RTU’s from serial to Ethernet. Their new Fusion radio is ideal for vehicle nodes providing LTE backhaul along with in vehicle Wi-Fi handoff.

CalAmp Fusion

There are a lot of great wireless backhaul systems out there, but when it comes to harsh and challenging environments like those that utilities face, certain considerations must be taken into account. Choosing the right wireless backhaul products, whether licensed microwave communications, last mile point to multipoint wireless Ethernet connectivity, or for wireless mobility applications is vital for long term survivability and reliability. Specially made hardened wireless communication systems are ideal for use by utilities. The right tool for the job!

Tags: Alpha Omega Wireless, General, AO Wireless, CalAmp, DataRadio, Smart Grid, LTE, mobility, SAF, RuggedCom

Wireless Mobility for Private Networks

Posted by Joe Wargo on Fri, Jan 31, 2014 @ 02:38 PM

There is an ever-growing need to provide high speed IP bandwidth in mobile applications. One of the greatest challenges is how to deliver broadband connectivity to moving objects, whether it be passenger or commercial rail, vehicles, watercraft, or unmanned moving objects. Since there is no way to physically cable a moving object, wireless connectivity is the solution.

           Mobility Connectivity    Wireless on rail

Wireless mobility can provide IP bandwidth that can be used for video surveillance backhaul, vehicle and sensor monitoring, remote vehicle control, on board Wi-Fi, computer connectivity, Smart devices like phones and tablets, voice communications, vehicle location tracking, transportation management, or public announcement systems.

Different wireless technologies can be used for mobility applications, such as: wireless mesh radios, point to multipoint wireless backhaul, WiMax, LTE, and radios designed for mobility handoff. There are a lot of wireless manufactures that claim to have broadband radio systems that can provide wireless mobility. Using the right radio equipment is important for the needs of the application. Some applications need extremely low latency while others are more concerned with the amount of bandwidth provided.

The main question is what is the mobility application? Many industries, like utilities (water, oil & gas, and electrical), government (city and county), first responder (law enforcement and fire), etc. all have needs for mobility applications beyond two-way radio and cellular connectivity. Is there a need for IP network connectivity back to the organizations data network and need for Internet connectivity? The problem with using cellular LTE is the reoccurring costs and having to manage so many plans. There is also no control over how employees are using the consumed data amounts on the plans. Security is also a huge issue when using public networks versus being able to control a private network that has no other access outside the organization.

In may cases organizations want to have both fixed and mobile applications, like a utility or city that needs to have bandwidth at fixed locations around a geographic area but also want the ability to have bandwidth in their vehicles. There is a huge cost savings by having the ability for employees to be able to be connected to the home office while traveling around a service area rather than having to drive back and forth to get information. This can be getting email in the field, being able to pull work orders, upload video or pictures, get access to site plans, and so on.

Applications that have needs for both fixed and mobility can benefit from using technologies like private LTE or licensed WiMax technologies. These technologies allow for 360-degree coverage capability with a reach upwards of 20 miles around a geographic area. Bandwidth can reach up to 40+Mbps.

There are some great radio systems now that can connect to a private LTE/WiMax network and can also if need be roam onto existing cellular networks as they roam outside a good coverage area. These systems can also provide in-vehicle Wi-Fi providing connectivity to laptops, tablets, and smart phones.

In other cases like transportation such as rail, both passenger and cargo, the use of mobility handoff systems that are fixed can provide a better solution. In this case the coverage area is more linear. Using directional radios allow for better performance and more control of the use of spectrum efficiency. It’s possible to get over 100Mbps with zero packet loss and less than 2ms of latency

The unique technical challenge is providing seamless hand off as a moving object passes wireless backhaul node locations. There needs to be seamless handoff at low latency so that data connectivity isn’t interrupted. This is just like the use of cellular networks that provide connectivity with out drops as you are traveling down the road in a car and talking on the phone. The key elements in a successful wireless mobility solution are proper wireless network design, accurate wireless path engineering, wireless spectrum analysis to determine appropriate frequency utilization, hardware choice and configuration, and most importantly is the quality of wireless installation.



Tags: Point to Multipoint, WiMax, LTE, mobility