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Small-Footprint Remote-Sensor Monitoring: The Future Is Now

Digi International
June 20, 2016

When you're working for a major petrochemical company, inventory control isn't merely a financial matter. That's because a slow, undetected leak of a dangerous chemical substance can ultimately lead to significant safety concerns, and environmental/regulatory issues that can cost millions of dollars.

A major metro's DPW team might be responsible for ensuring thousands of streets are operational on a 24x7 basis. Outages translate into lapses in public safety and unnecessary taxpayer expense. But how can they keep tabs on all of those fixtures?

Unfortunately, for organizations like these - and thousands of others facing the same dilemmas - the only feasible recourse has been to put technicians and repair teams on the road, logging thousands of miles each year to remote sites to manually check simple metrics like air quality, tank levels, pipeline pressures, valve statuses, light fixtures, and more. It's a cost and headache that they're eager to avoid - but the data is too important to avoid or ignore. In fact, the more difficult the data is to capture, the more valuable it often is.

Remote-sensor monitoring through wireless networks is the obvious - and long-sought - alternative, but too many barriers have prevented wide-scale adoption. Chief among these roadblocks: power consumption. Solar-powered wireless gateways are still not cost-feasible for industrial applications. Battery-powered cellular devices are another option, but until recently the costs of carriers' rigid consumer-focused data plans (and the expense of the devices themselves) made them suitable for only a small subset of applications. Low-power WiFi networks and internal batteries can provide some coverage, but they require RF and network engineers to design, install, and maintain - expertise that is in high demand.

The Tide Is Turning

Fortunately, we're seeing important changes that are making low- or no-power remote monitoring easy and cost-effective. First, cellular operators are recognizing that $30-50/mo. consumer data plans are a non-starter in the industrial space. Some carriers are now offering data plans of as little as 250 KB and compelling configurations and bundles that have driven prices down to $1-3/mo. High-volume customers are even seeing sub-$1 pricing.

Device costs have also plunged. Cellular gateways are now less than $20 for 2G and 3G modules. Similar dynamics are likely in the LTE space soon. And as M2M-friendly LTE CAT standards take hold in the coming years, we'll see lower device costs, lower operating costs, and longer battery life - all with no need for a local wireless network to carry backhaul traffic.

Ultimately, it means we're now able to deploy the small-footprint, no/low-power remote-sensor network that skips the truck rolls, cuts the costs, and increases visibility across the company's entire asset portfolio. The new Digi Connect Sensor battery-powered cellular gateway lets companies and agencies finally deploy a no-infrastructure remote monitoring solution in virtually any harsh or remote environment.

Heres more about the features of the Digi Connect Sensor:

  • Flexible power sources - Use a long-lasting (two to three years), non-rechargeable battery, power-saving sleep mode, and the option to draw power external sources (including solar) while using the internal battery as a backup.
  • Cellular choice - For global connectivity, Connect Sensor supports 3G HSPA+ with 2G fallback. North American users can also choose an LTE CAT 1 version.
  • Supports LTE CAT 1 - With support for LTE CAT 1, the band specifically created for IoT and M2M communications, Connect Sensor devices are highly efficient, consume less power, and are optimized for data transfer.
  • Sensor variety and flexibility - Connect Sensor can work with virtually any 4/20mA, Analog Out, Digital Out, or Pulsed Output sensor, and can power multiple external sensors, eliminating the need for external supplies or batteries.
  • Enterprise-grade security - You can implement security at the device, transport, and platform level.
  • Appropriate for harsh environments - A weatherproof NEMA 4 enclosure protects your sensors from the elements. It also features ATEX Group 2 and UL Class 1 Division 2 ratings.

Interested in learning more? Here are a number of resources to get you started: