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An introduction to Monitoring Fundamentals strictly from the perspective of telecom network alarm management.

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A Quick Overview of Microwave Networks

Microwave Communication Overview

Microwave communication is a high-frequency method of wirelessly sending data. It is very similar to radio technology. Both allow long-distance communication and are right next to each other on the electromagnetic spectrum.

What are Microwave Communications used for?

The technology used for microwave communication was built in the early 1940s by Western Union. The first microwave message was sent in 1945. It traveled from NY to PA. Following this success, microwave became the most common way to provide service.

With new satellite and cell technologies, fiber optics has become more common than microwave transmissions.

However, microwave gear is still used at many remote sites where fiber cabling cannot be installed cheaply.

Modern microwave systems are used in telephone networks and ISPs. They're used by power utilities to remotely manage the power grid. They're used by public safety agencies for remote monitoring and management.

Many industries used microwave, and they do it for one important reason: it provides point to point communication over long distances without physical wires.

This is common in rural mountainous regions, where installing physical transmission lines is difficult and expensive. Microwave systems minimize installations and maintenance, as microwave signals can transmit data across dozens of miles.

Why are Microwave Transmitters mounted on towers?

Just like visible light, microwaves are blocked by obstacles. They need a clear path to reach their destination. Mounting transmitters and receivers high on a tower offer a clear line of sight to the next tower. Also, taller towers reduce the impact of the Earth's curvature. Taller towers can be spaced farther apart and still see one another.

Analog vs. Digital

Microwave telecommunication systems use analog and digital formats. While digital microwave systems are the most advanced form, both are useful.

Analog microwave communication systems may be the cheapest option for your microwave transmitter tower sites. It's paid for and in service; if you have older microwave equipment, it's most likely analog. To avoid having to retrain your staff or encounter new issues, you may want to retain your current analog microwave gear.

Digital microwave technology use more advanced, more reliable technology. It is much easier to find equipment to support this transmission method because it's newer. Because it has a higher bandwidth, you can transmit more data using more verbose protocols. The high speeds of digital microwave systems will also decrease the time it takes to poll your equipment. This more reliable format provides for more reliable reporting with advanced communication equipment.

Microwave System Monitoring is a Necessity

Digital or analog, monitoring microwave communication equipment is considered a mission-critical operation. Monitoring online connectivity is a 24/7 operation that requires dedicated monitoring.

But most importantly, your customers should never be the first to tell you about a network outage.

You also have other concerns not directly related to microwave. Consider the risk of copper theft. First, it probably takes a long time to fix. Second, replacing (and paying labor costs to reinstall) copper is expensive. This is equally true for any other kind of theft or vandalism. You lose revenue AND skyrocket costs at the same time.

Also think about the required aircraft obstruction lighting for your towers. To avoid FCC/FAA fines for non-compliance, you have to keep your lights online. Any lighting failure must be reported promptly to minimize your risk of fines and liability.

It's problems like these that necessitate a remote monitoring system to instantly notify you of microwave transmission failures.

Deploy an RTU at Your Site to Protect Your Critical Microwave Communications

A network alarm monitoring system is composed of a fleet of remote telemetry units, or "RTUs", which collect alarms from your microwave communication equipment and forward them to your alarm master.

These remotes are a critical piece of your monitoring system because they provide your alarm master with the information it needs to notify you of an outage via email or text message.

No matter what RTU you choose, you'll be in better shape than if you use "embedded" monitoring built into your microwave system. It's never good to let equipment monitor itself (what happens when it fails?), but there's another problem, too. Embedded systems are big trouble when it's time to upgrade your transport.

What should I look for in a RTU for microwave transmission sites?

There are plenty of RTU manufacturers out there, but most of them won't be appropriate for your microwave facilities. Some will be built for corporate IT environments in air-conditioned data centers, not remote industrial mountaintop sites. Some units will not support the transport or protocol that you need. Here's a quick RTU tutorial for microwave transmission sites:

Power Input Voltage

What power voltage is available at your microwave transmission site? Microwave sites rarely 110 VAC. This makes "IT" RTUs a poor choice. Look for an RTU with native -48 VDC, +24 VDC, or whatever you need it to support.


How many contact closures do you have to monitor? How many battery voltages? Will a single temperature sensor work, or do you need to mount several at different locations? You need monitoring hardware that can cover all the critical equipment and environmental conditions at your microwave site.


Do you have gear that can be controlled with a contact closure? If so, you'll want a control relay output on your RTU to cover each one. Do you have gear that gets jammed up and needs a routine power cycle? Higher-amp relays (10A) can remotely toggle power to force a reboot. Find a remote alarm device with the right outputs


Do you have older analog microwave transmission gear that requires a 202 or FSK modem? Do you need a serial connection? Do you have IP overhead channels on your digital microwave? All of these potential scenarios need different RTU transport.


Dictated by your transport and alarm master, you need to choose a compatible protocol. If you have older equipment you might need an older protocol like E2A, TBOS, TL1, or TRIP. You might need something newer like SNMP or DNP3. Make sure your RTU supports the necessary protocols.

What about Central Monitoring Consoles?

Good RTUs are important, and they can generally handle themselves if you have fewer than 12 RTUs in your fleet.

With a small number of facilities, you can program your RTUs to send you SMS or emails whenever there's an issue.

With more than 12 sites, you need a central alarm collector to help manage alarms throughout your network. Just like RTUs, however, there are good master stations and bad master stations. Here's what to look for:

    • Protocol compatibility

      Your master should be able to interpret whatever protocol your RTUs and other gear use. A very common protocol is SNMP, but DNP or Modbus are also popular in microwave environments. If you have your choice, an efficient protocol (bits instead of verbose text) is better to reduce bandwidth overhead.
    • Time-tested Design

      Your network is mission critical, and clients are depending on you to perform flawlessly. Choosing a manufacturer who extensively tests their devices and has a custom built lab to emulate "the wild", is important to ensure .
    • Licensing Issues.

      If you're buying a master station, buy a master station. Don't purchase something at a seemingly low price, then get nickeled and dimed every time you need to add a new monitored device. Paying for individual protocols one time is fine. That's a large design decision. Paying for each device you add is just silly. Don't let your monitoring manufacturer take away control of your network.
    • Buying only what you need.

      If you have 20 sites, you probably need a master station. What you definitely don't need is an enterprise-scale master that can handle thousands upon thousands of locations. Look for a master that has a few levels of capacity & prices to choose from as well as the ability to handle company expansion.
    • Consider your upgrade path.

      If you have big growth in the future, you can upgrade to your manufacturer's next size up. Ask prospective vendors whether they offer upgrade discounts. If you do grow within the next few years, can you upgrade for free? It's a really good sign if your vendor believes that their products are competitive enough to offer tech and expansion support.

Avoid the trap of microwave integrated monitoring systems

Many transport manufacturers provide some kind of monitoring function. In the case of microwave systems, you frequently get a few contact closures and a bit of overhead bandwidth to transmit alarm data. This can seem like a good idea (and it's certainly better than nothing at all), but consider the negative impacts of a monitoring system that's integrated with (and, therefore, totally reliant on) your microwave transmission equipment:

  • Capacity and functions are generally limited. Your microwave manufacturer is good at what they do, but they're not experts in remote monitoring. Many integrated systems do not track things like analog temperature values or generator fuel level. An integrated monitoring system may not provide enough visibility to efficiently manage your network
  • With integrated monitoring, you're letting your microwave equipment monitor itself. Independent monitoring via an RTU is superior for reliability. An RTU can have backup transport to route around a microwave failure.
  • When you want to upgrade your microwave transmission gear, your monitoring will vanish overnight. At best, you have to move all alarm points over to a new system. At worst, you'll have to purchase a fleet of RTUs overnight.

Protect Your Microwave Transmission Reliability with a Dedicated Remote Telemetry Unit Now

The KDA 864 RTU is one remote that can help you protect your important microwave communication equipment.

The KDA 864 provides you with 64 alarm points and 8 control points in a single 19-inch rack unit. It also supports 202 modems for use with microwave base bands 0-4, as well as FSK modems on 4-8 and 8-12 basebands. With support for DCP, E2A, TBOS, TL1, TRIP, or TBOS, the KDA 864 will protect your microwave communication to keep your network online. If you need more capacity, you can connect up to four KDA's to form a larger alarm unit.

Dozens of NetGuardian models are available for remote monitoring. They all do more or less the same thing (monitoring and control automation), but have different capacities and different transports, form factors, etc.

Part 2: How to monitor your antenna towers

Specific Project Links

Related Articles

Read all of our microwave articles: Microwave Knowledge Base

Microwave data is the information that makes up a microwave communication message. This data can be any type of message that is transmitted between microwave towers using microwave communications equipment.

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