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Remote Asset Performance Management in Cellular, 5G & Infrastructure

28.10.2022
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Remote asset monitoring and management dramatically improves the lifetime cost of ownership of an asset by reducing truck rolls, improving system availability and increasing security. Whilst these capabilities may be an inherent feature of a modern product, they can also be retrofitted with the use of intelligent edge gateways. Advances in AI edge inference and machine learning mean that both modern and legacy devices can have augmented remote monitoring and maintenance applications applied, further improving the lifetime cost of operating an asset. Cellular backhaul provides a mechanism to add monitoring and management capabilities without affecting customer networks. Whilst 5G will bring new possibilities, the existing LTE network is already sufficient for the majority of use cases, and can be easily futureproofed with careful design. This means that most users can start to deploy remote asset management today. 

The Definition of Remote Asset Management and Its Impacts

When we talk about an asset, we mean a piece of equipment, or a collection of devices that contribute to a process, which in turn leads to a business outcome. It might be some specific pieces of equipment on a remote site, the building in which they are contained, or the perimeter of the site itself. Some typical examples might be an equipment hut on a cellular transmission site, pipeline pumping station or wind turbine farm.

Given this broad definition of "asset," it could be more beneficial to consider the characteristics they share in general:

  • If they fail, they impact other processes or business outcomes
  • They typically operate in a steady state or cyclic mode in which some ‘normal’ operating conditions can be defined
  • They can be impacted by external events, such as ambient conditions, operator error, vandalism or sabotage.
  • A failure is likely to need an engineer to visit the asset to correct an issue, and the assets are typically geographically remote from where the engineer is normally located

This latter aspect is particularly important for comprehending the necessity and advantages of an asset management solution. The cost of sending an engineer to a site to resolve a problem is quite high and rising, and may not always be possible, for example due to travel restrictions.

Why remote asset monitoring is important

Asset monitoring is crucial because it reduces the costs and dangers of equipment downtime. It is feasible to identify deviations from the norm, enabling them to be mitigated or corrected before they lead to operational degradation, often without the need to physically  visit the site. This might be via something as simple as performing a remote device power cycle, but can also extend to remotely implementing firmware upgrades, security patches etc. Another benefit is that it is frequently possible to diagnose the issue remotely, meaning if a site visit is necessary, the engineers will already have the appropriate tools and materials with them on their first visit.

Intelligent Edge Gateways, Machine Learning and AI Inference

Using edge gateways offers various advantages, such as extending the lifespan of the current end-point devices by switching from the old protocols to the new ones if a user wishes to upgrade their upstream systems. Extending the useful life of legacy equipment has benefits for sustainability efforts in addition to reducing capital cost. 

Once intelligent edge gateways are deployed, users can begin applying machine learning and AI inference to identify patterns in the locally recovered data that point to the start of a problem. The edge gateway's integrated AI inference engine can detect changes that are too minute for human operators to notice and can  proactively sound alarms to draw attention to them before they impact outcomes. Over the next few years, AI and ML will change a wide range of businesses.

Intelligent Edge Gateways, Machine Learning and AI Inference

There are many fascinating use cases for 5G, however they are broadly split into two categories: public and private 5G. If public 5G is envisioned as being "far and wide," it will expand the capabilities of narrow band IoT and LTE category M. It becomes similar to how flexible the internet is currently for smartphones, tablets, and laptops, with millions of devices from thousands of different owners transmitting data to thousands of different end points.

Private 5G however, brings a completely new dimension. If we think of a large facility or campus, where the traditional problems of wireless are evidenced by the unsuitability of Wi-Fi. Private 5G offers user data and voice services, but more importantly brings the possibility of automation, robotic control and AI to the edge in a controlled, secure and managed wireless network, with previously unheard of low levels of latency. This makes it ideal for applications involving automated vehicles, cranes and lifting devices, but also for safety and security use cases. Safety is crucial in environments where humans and automation interact and coexist, but thanks to low latency wireless communication, safety light curtains, warning systems, perimeter management, and proximity systems are now simpler, quicker, and more affordable to deploy.

About Three

Three is a Mobile Network Operator and is the largest in Ireland, with 3.4 million customers, and over 1.9million IoT SIMs across Ireland and the UK.  

Three Ireland is the IoT Centre of Excellence for Ireland, UK, Sweden and Denmark, but they also have sister networks in Italy, Austria and Asia. They have 99% 4G coverage and over 85% 5G coverage, and carry over half of all mobile data in Ireland on their network, meaning more than all other operators combined. 

Three has invested over €2 billion in their world-class infrastructure, including €820 million in their network since 2015, and they have an annual network investment of over €100 million. Three’s aim is to provide its customers with a better-connected life through meaningful products, best in class service and a connected network experience. 

Three is part of renowned global conglomerate CK Hutchison Holdings which is committed to innovation and technology. Its diverse businesses employ over 300,000 people in over 50 countries across the world.  CK Hutchison has five core businesses - ports and related services, retail, infrastructure, energy and telecommunications.

Summary

The benefits of remote asset management is something everyone should be considering and probably implementing, as it really makes a difference to the lifetime cost of ownership of a system, and to the resources needed to support it. It can provide a mechanism to overcome travel restrictions, and in any case will reduce the number of truck rolls and service visits needed throughout the operational life of an asset. Also, in a world where cyber threats are an increasing reality, it provides the quickest way to roll out security patches and upgrades across a large number of locations.

Other important advantages of using cellular technology to implement remote asset management include freedom from customer network restrictions, the potential for global deployment, the ability for mobile assets to roam between networks in response to service availability at any location, and high levels of availability through the use of multiple redundant carriers. Although 5G will enable some new applications, it is crucial to note that for the majority of these types of applications, the current LTE network is more than adequate, allowing customers to deploy them right away.