In Part 1 of this blog series we looked a bit at the history and importance of Multiple Address (MAS) radio systems. Now let’s talk about how we deal with large amounts of aging MAS infrastructure that are at or nearing the end of their useful life.
The good news is that there are a variety of solutions available.
- While some of the legacy vendors have disappeared from the market, a few have continued to develop their solutions and currently offer solutions that allow an “evolutionary” migration of legacy infrastructure.
- There are the “revolutionary” solutions that represent “forklift” upgrades of existing MAS systems, but fundamentally offer an MAS like solution with a number of new features and capabilities.
- Some utilities that have deployed AMI networks on a wide scale are evaluating ways to leverage these networks to provide connectivity to end devices currently connected via MAS.
- Some utilities are moving towards a completely different approach by establishing “big pipe” IP connectivity to these remote sites. This allows a much more robust set of applications to make use of a shared connection. One common approach is to install fiber optic solutions between major substations and then use wireless options (such as WiMAX) to reach out from these locations to the more remote sites that need connectivity.
While all of these are worth considering, there are definitely certain criteria that often separate the successes from the more challenging projects.
- Understand that the next solution may not have a thirty year life. It is much more realistic to expect solutions like proprietary point-to-point or point-to-multipoint radios or even standards-based approaches like WiMAX to have a ten to fifteen year life. But that is not necessarily a major concern given the next point.
- Proper design and planning for solutions will result in a successful deployment and better position you for the future. Even utilities with a handful of MAS radios may be communicating with dozens or hundreds of end-points. These are large, complex projects and need to be appropriately planned and managed. Also, many of the solutions being deployed require the addition of towers or poles, which can be both costly and time consuming. If the radio must be replaced in ten years – with properly designed placement of the towers and poles – a simple radio swap will be all that is involved.
- Avoid the temptation to “just get by.” Major telecom infrastructure projects can be costly and require significant effort; temporary solutions that may buy you a few months only delay the inevitable and often put reliability at risk. Some of the solutions mentioned above have significant benefits that you can begin realizing today if you migrate. Leveraging an existing AMI network can reduce the O&M expenses associated with aging MAS radio infrastructure. Putting off the “pain” can also delay the potential payback!
- Ensure the plan for MAS is in line with (and ultimately converges into) the broader telecom strategy. For example, if a key component of your cybersecurity strategy involves all remote sites coming back through a firewall, a solution that hands you a serial connection at the master site leaves more pieces that must be integrated into the design.
- And finally, watch that your licenses don’t unknowingly expire. Are you certain that you know where the renewal notices are going or that someone is periodically checking the FCC database? Dealing with a lapsed license can be an extra headache on top of having to deal with aging infrastructure. It is also a problem that is reasonably easy to avoid.
While the aging MAS radio infrastructure definitely offers some challenges, it also provides an opportunity to take a fresh look at all the alternatives and see what option may be the best fit. West Monroe Partners has helped several utilities take a holistic look at aging telecom infrastructure , evaluate the available options, choose the solution (or solutions) that fit best, and then assist with managing the implantation of next generation telecom solutions. How can we help you?