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Continued from: Beyond the smart grid: Exploring facilities monitoring as a service

While the missions of facilities monitoring applications differ, they share a common architecture. Monitoring as a service requires three elements:

  1. Sensors installed at the site;
  2. Communications connectivity with the sensors;
  3. Operations processes to monitor output and take appropriate action.

Operators may not only be players in the facilities monitoring and management space -- they could be natural winners.

Tom Nolle
CIMI Corp.

In most cases, deploying operations processes to monitor and take the right action creates both the largest component of cost and the greatest opportunity for differentiating a facilities monitoring application.

Network operators routinely deal with millions of connected customers and monitor millions of smart elements. The operational efficiency and economies of scale that existing OSS/BSS platforms could generate, combined with the use of smarter monitoring technology to issue proactive alerts based on specific conditions (rather than continuously reading parameter values), can create a highly efficient facilities monitoring service framework. That framework enables operators to price the service low enough to be attractive to the mass market and still be profitable to the operator.

Operators are also more trusted to monitor applications than any other class of provider. Some surveys even show that network operators would be a preferred source of power management tools, since consumers fear that power companies might unnecessarily tinker with power usage to serve their own interests. Because network operators can credibly perform all facilities monitoring applications, their likely ARPU from investments in this class of application would be higher, and the larger number of customers could further improve their economies of scale, allowing them to be price leaders.

Addressing the challenges of a facilities monitoring as a service framework

The most pervasive technical model for providing facilities monitoring as a service includes some type of facility controller, attachable modular sensor elements and a broadband connection to a monitoring application.

  • The facility controller would be responsible for sensor management and alerts, as well as for providing security so the framework is immune to outside hacking and could be trusted to operate correctly. It is possible to integrate the controller element of the service with a cable or telecom broadband gateway, and vendors are already exploring this combination. But while a broadband gateway can monitor traffic by monitoring its own functions, it would require some form of external sensor connection to perform other facilities monitoring and management tasks.

  • Connecting sensors to the controller is obviously an issue, particularly since any need for a truck roll to install or modify the facilities monitoring system will raise the bar to acceptance by driving up both the initial cost and sustaining cost. Wireless sensors, or those based on power-line network or in-home cable standards (e.g., HomePNA, HomePlug and MoCA), can provide a means of linking the controller and sensors, but connection security and reliability are important. The goal would be for the provider to set standards for the sensors, then allow the user to self-install them, offering installation only as a cost item.

Many different kinds of companies might hope to provide consumer and business facilities monitoring and control, but not all players could hope to match the economies that telecom companies and other broadband providers could achieve.

The key point that network operators have realized is that there is an element of home-residence management involved in supporting consumer broadband services. They need a staff of support technicians and customer service personnel, and there are likely to be considerable economies of scale associated with extending the scope of the facilities monitoring and control to home security and power systems. Operators may not only be players in the facilities monitoring and management space -- they could be natural winners.

Back to the beginning: Beyond the smart grid: Exploring facilities monitoring as a service

About the author: Tom Nolle is president of CIMI Corporation, a strategic consulting firm specializing in telecommunications and data communications since 1982. He is the publisher of Netwatcher, a journal addressing advanced telecommunications strategy issues. Check out his SearchTelecom.com networking blog, Uncommon Wisdom.

This was first published in March 2011

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