September 13, 2013 —
What does the Internet of Things (IoT) have to do with operating a cell site?
Walters: The impact of the Internet of Things is very real. It is transforming businesses that are adopting the ability to remotely monitor or predict equipment failure. Reducing operational costs is the leading value indicator for IoT in cell towers.
A typical cell tower deployment includes eight to 10 sensors. Areas of monitoring at a cell site include HVAC [heating, ventilation air conditioning] units, water detection, access door, infrared sensors that detect intruders, vehicle access, obstruction lighting and air flow.
What are the different types of IoT services?
Walters: The first wave of IoT is becoming aware of things that have ceased to operate. For example, the obstruction lighting system makes the tower owner aware that a light has gone out, which is critical to avoiding an FCC fine. Critical monitoring of aware lights is a very good market for the internet of things.
Another wave is a predictive model, as we are doing with our cellular carrier partners and their HVAC units. We are monitoring the power consumption of the HVAC unit. When it begins to have problems, it will draw more power. For example, if the amps go from 20 up to 100, we know it is going to fail. So, when the power usage passes 40-50 amps, we will send a preemptive notification to the HVAC contractor and they will address the problem before the equipment fails. It can also allow the carrier to schedule service when it is least expensive.
The next wave will be the transformative state, where they get predictive information and share it with other vendors or partners preemptively. The purpose of this is to have the vendor use the data to make better product.
We also provide control. When then system becomes aware that something’s wrong, it sends a signal that turns something on like a fan. Control is the ying to the yang of monitoring.
What is the value proposition for the cell site owner or carrier?
Walters: Our technology is designed to reduce the number of truck rolls, which have an adverse impact on the profitability of a cell site. Predictive maintenance allows the customer to negotiate better service rates by combining service calls for predicted issues with their normal maintenance service.
We are aggressive in providing low-cost offerings. We sell monitoring products and provide basic services for free with premium features as an option. Even with our full set of premium features, we only charge our customers a low annual fee as opposed to getting a service charge once a month.
Who are your customers?
Walters: We have relationships with Verizon Wireless, AT&T, Sprint and US Cellular, all direct, for various parts of the IoT. We have only started looking at small cells recently. And we have an ongoing dialogue with the tower companies.
Is it complicated to deploy a tower monitoring system?
Walters: We design our solutions from the ground up for remote monitoring of the internet of things so there is no legacy technology to deal with.
Our products are self-install. You have a gateway that you plug into a power source, and it finds its way home through a cellular signal over the Internet. You have a sensor that you put a battery in and it finds its way to the gateway. The goal is maximum ease of use and reliability and support. Biggest tower partner has us, on an ongoing basis, take the data and help them understand it through analytics.