Using Cellular in an eco-system

The term “Eco-System” has grabbed a foothold within the M2M/IoT/IIoT industry, but what does it mean?

M2M/IoT/IIoT share the same DNA as the legacy Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems of the past. The differences are how data is used and delivered. SCADA had a single mission: To bring system and sensor data to a central location and to be controlled by an intelligent device such as a programmable logic controller (PLC). The process was somewhat simple: Collect data, display data, and manipulate data.

A SCADA installation may have consisted of a device converting analog sensors to a digital serial protocol such as MODBUS and was transmitted over RS422 over a max distance of 1500 meters or 4,900 ft.. Wire used to send the RS422 data was buried or place overhead throughout the facility or site being monitored. This allowed for a local network but collecting information from other remote sites wasn’t easy and was expensive. One major expense was the cost of digging trenches to bury and install the data wire then the cost of maintaining the system. Wiring aged or was often damaged, this would disrupt a system for days even weeks until the wire could be repaired.

The invention of RF modems allowed an engineer to interface the RS422 network to a proprietary radio. At the time the spectrum was limited; there was no such thing as 900Mhz, 2.4Mhz, or “non- licensed” radio, everything was licensed. In fact, the RF modem was developed for HAM radio operators to send data.

RF was a big milestone for the transmission of remote SCADA data and allowed for long distance sites, from 5 to 20miles, to be connected together or to a monitoring facility where many sites were connected. This was the spawn of an eco-system.

The proprietary RF data network carried a hefty price and although many companies began leasing/renting RF space within a municipal area, it did open the door to new technologies, new companies and new ways of sending and using data.

Jump to 2016, legacy SCADA is still alive and kicking but the environment has changed once again. SCADA as we know it is typically a closed loop system with propriety protocols designed to increase autonomy, and decrease O&M costs. The intense interest on the Industrial IoT is driven by the ability of data to create value across multiple applications and not just in the pure, traditional SCADA. The data itself, the amount of data what the data can be used for has significantly increased. Data production, aggregation, and consumption can happen outside of a closed system.

Interoperability allows the integration of “‘best in class systems”, but it is not a simple process. The practical need to integrate the old and new has become essential. From proprietary protocols, through device integration, data translation and enrichment, and integration into analytics systems, this is not a simple process. Anyone who says otherwise is under-estimating the job at hand. This is where the eco-system comes into play. Which partners need to be at the table to deliver an application that works?  Industry requires a broader scope of connectivity and open network integration products and technologies than it has in the past. Solutions today must span industrial automation, industrial networking and connectivity, data, analytics platforms and enterprise intelligence.  

Common sense and research combine to tell us that up to 85% of the assets that will be used in IIoT applications exist today. Many of them have serial communications ports, and many of them existed pre-network while others are pre-network and managed by sensor.   Considering the long capital life of equipment investments; understanding and incorporating legacy communications will still be critical for years to come.

M2M, IoT and IIoT all depend heavily on the Internet for connectivity and a global footprint is mandatory. Access to information from anywhere in the world is light years from the original SCADA concept. When the cellular network was developed the thought of sending data over a cellular network was nothing more than a dream.

When you mix the need for legacy technology integration, remote access, reliability and the ability to interface and integrate the new and old with respect to vital signs monitoring a cellular device is a perfect fit. When you add in the ability to access any IP device connected to a cellular device and the ability to create programs in support of purpose build applications, you have a device that has the ability to support a wide spectrum of monitoring and control applications and vertical markets. This is Intelligence at the Network Edge.

The ability to collect and aggregate data, design in analytics as a preventive maintenance model not only save money but significantly increases the usefulness of the data being produced. The days of being able to share data, predict system failures and receive notifications in real-time are here and here to stay. This is the Eco-System of today. Standards-based Cellular routers engineered and equipped with serial ports, Ethernet ports and security such as VPN are an essential part of the required equipment for remote or network isolated applications.

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