Battery Monitoring Evolution for Cell Towers and OSP Cabinets
Published on OSP Magazine (http://www.ospmag.com)
The Battery Holy Grail
Battery Monitoring Evolution for Cell Towers and OSP Cabinets
by: Alan Long
“To date, I have yet to see a cost effective device or system that is not over engineered and full of unneeded features that is fully and readily integratable into the Telco environment that functions as billed and delivers information over the communication channels to the right user. If such a system existed what would it be like? It would be small, contain minimal features to measure dv/dt, di/dt, and temperature, minimize wiring connections, be designed as a completely wired system for ease of network integration, with statistical analysis and historical data trending, and be able to pass data over the designated communication channels to the end user remote device(s).”
— Bruce Fountain, industry expert and frequent conference speaker, from his 2003 BATTCON paper titled “Battery Maintenance and Monitoring — What’s Real and What’s Not?” (More Reliability for the Dollar?)
When Mr. Fountain penned those words a decade ago, he identified the Holy Grail for monitoring companies: an effective, affordable means of battery monitoring — wherever those batteries might be. As with most holy grails, the ideal he envisioned seemed almost unattainable at the time.
But a lot can happen in 10 years.
Since Mr. Fountain’s prescient comments in 2003: apps have gone from a dining-out treat to a smartphone staple; the television shows The Office, 30 Rock, Lost, and Jersey Shore have come and gone; cloud computing has become as ubiquitous as the LAN; the world has seen 3 popes, 5 Olympic games, and nearly 600 successful space launches. So it shouldn’t be surprising that much has happened in the battery monitoring arena, as well.
Voltage, internal resistance, discharge data, and ambient temperature are measured at specified intervals on a 24/7 basis. Only sites with “poor” or “bad” batteries are identified for action.
The Mother of Invention: Mother Nature
In 2005, Hurricane Katrina crossed over Florida and entered the Gulf of Mexico. By the time it left New Orleans, it had forever changed the expectations placed on emergency preparedness, first responders, and those responsible for providing the critical equipment and services they rely on. With this in mind, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) worked with providers of telecommunication services and telecom equipment to clearly define its more robust expectations with regard to emergency back-up power and service continuation.
New cloud-based application approach to battery monitoring allows for the exact identification of sites, strings, and/or batteries that require attention.
Subsequent weather events like the “Super Dericho” in 2012 that unexpectedly swept through 700 miles of the United States’ east coast, and Hurricane Sandy that followed shortly thereafter in the fall, exposed a serious flaw in the United States’ power and telecom infrastructure. Reports compiled during Hurricane Sandy noted as many as 25% of cell sites and cable customers were without service across the storm’s multi-state path, approaching 60% in New York City. These and other events have, not surprisingly, sharpened the government’s focus on those companies charged with providing and maintaining critical services. (See Sidebar Below.)
So where does this leave us? What advances have been made in the last 10 years that address the issues noted above and will allow telecom and broadband companies to monitor their batteries as they truly should be monitored? Because, let’s face it, if the solution improves the approach but doesn’t address traditional business and market considerations like customer satisfaction, cost effectiveness, efficiency, and performance, then it probably isn’t going to take hold.
The ideal solution would leverage a cloud-based application and capture critical state-of-health measurements from hundreds of thousands of sites. The information would be sent continuously to a central server for evaluation, analysis, and trending, wirelessly or via Ethernet connection.
Compact, high quality hardware that is easily installed new or readily retrofitted to existing installations is now available.
Measurements would monitor voltage, internal resistance, discharge data, and ambient temperature at specified intervals on a 24/7 basis. These measurements would be recorded and trended; thresholds
for the criteria would be set; and alarms would be triggered whenever battery activity breached
The ideal solution would also capture this cloud-based data and categorize alarms by site and type of breach. Administrators would conduct queries and evaluate the battery’s current condition, as well as the trending data that has been received over the life of the monitored connection of that battery or string. Only sites with “poor” or “bad” batteries would be identified for action to the technicians and/or end users. This type of battery monitoring would transform site visits from an uncertain expedition to a proactive, targeted, meaningful mission.
Sentry Telecom Diagram
Though it has taken nearly a decade, the options for solutions envisioned by Bruce Fountain are now available — and not a moment too soon. One company, BatteryDAQ, has created such a testing and monitoring system that allows the factors mentioned above to be addressed simply and effectively.
Given the increase in powering needs across the wireless and wireline networks, cost-efficient battery monitoring is becoming a critical tool to ensure network reliability and reduce operating expenditures. With new cloud-based solutions, today’s communications service providers can finally benefit from the substantial advances made in battery monitoring technologies over the last 10 years.
1. Too many sites, too few technicians. Having technicians evaluate data from thousands of sites daily or even weekly is costly and risky.
2. Fewer and fewer experts. As more experienced “Battery Men” retire, there are fewer technicians with the required expertise. So, despite having data at-hand, the less-experienced technician may overlook a potential threat, or mistakenly replace one or more perfectly good batteries. In a more general sense, there are also fewer engineers, supervisors, or any other Telco personnel who can understand the data collected from the battery and know what to do with it. Most of all, the people who are assigned to receive and review this data are not battery experts — so the data coming in is most often wasted.
3. Expensive truck rolls. Cell sites are often in remote or inconvenient locations, making transporting and servicing them very costly.
4. Confusing detection methods. Telecom companies have had mixed experience with vendors who may not be using the latest, best monitoring practices. To date, there has not been one, perfect approach to assessing battery health.
5. Cost vs. Benefit.Balancing the benefits of battery monitoring with the costs associated with the failure of those batteries has always been a challenge for the cost-conscious provider.
6. Expensive hardware. There has long been the perception that the battery monitoring hardware is just too darn expensive.
Problems Identified, Solutions Found
1. Too many sites, too few technicians.Thanks to the cloud, the number of sites need never again be an issue, and advances in data compilation, analysis, and reporting reduce the need for experienced battery men and other on-site personnel.
2. Fewer and fewer experts.Advances in battery monitoring technology have reduced the need to rely on human expertise.
3. Expensive truck rolls. Information that is more precise, timely, and reliable allows for fewer truck rolls; and trucks that are dispatched are done so with purpose.
4. Confusing detection methods.The confusion typically associated with battery monitoring is nearly eliminated with today’s cloud-based solutions that include comprehensive measurement of critical indicators; historical performance trending; and clear, actionable reports that are readily accessible to all who need them.
5. Cost vs. Benefit.Comparing traditional preventive maintenance and battery replacement programs with those of newer approaches show that cost savings are likely, as well as other benefits that go beyond expense reduction. For example: more reliable monitoring reduces service (and reputation) risk; installation of advanced hardware enables tracking of historical data that can assist with warranty claims and in identifying the most reliable brands; and choosing to improve a battery monitoring practice may blunt criticism of regulatory agencies and others, should the traditional monitoring methods fail you.
6. Expensive hardware.Compact, high quality hardware that is easily installed new or readily retrofitted to existing installations is now available.
About the Author
Alan Long is an IEEE senior member, and is director of engineering for BatteryDAQ LLC. He has more than 20 years in battery manufacturing and monitoring. BatteryDAQ is a comprehensive remote solution provider for large scale battery monitoring and data management.