Remote RF Monitoring Over IP

Remote broadcast transmitters were once logged and controlled from studios over a standard telephone line, and monitored on a consumer TV. The alarm was the GM calling the Master Control Red Phone.

The Bell 103A modem standard was introduced in 1962. It was based on touch-tone frequencies and provided full-duplex, 300 bit/s communication. It remained the standard until 1981 when the Hayes Smartmodem introduced the Hayes command set for RS-232 interface.

Early transmitter remote control systems were based on these original modem standards and frequently designed and built by station engineers. Modern digital technology has exponentially improved transmitter remote monitoring and control systems, minimizing necessary engineering time spent at remote transmitter sites.

The Broadcast Bridge recently asked GatesAir some questions about transmitter remote control progress and the latest trends. Raymond Miklius, GatesAir Vice President, EMEA Sales and Channel Programs shared the following information with us.

What are customers asking for? Is there a trend?
The primary trend is the transition from GPIO-based remote controls and toward full SNMP support. As RF plants are modernized for solid-state transmission, adding SNMP support opens the door for IP-based monitoring. Instead of using old-school GPIO, we can now send our management information base (MIB) to understand how the transmitter is performing. That MIB structure also supports transmitter control through SNMP. These benefits have inspired most vendors that supply RF systems and components to add support for SNMP.

The vendors that supply today’s monitoring solutions are also supporting SNMP. This makes at least some of the legacy GPIO support requirements obsolete. Engineers can now connect to their transmitters over an IP network, and the associated MIBS are transferred over the network for presentation and analysis over a GUI.

What remote monitoring over IP options does GatesAir offer customers?
We are interoperable with a variety of monitoring and network management systems. Our transmitters include IP ports to transfer SNMP information, and our user interfaces are all HTML5-capable. Almost any data presented on the user interface of transmitters can be extended through MIBS. That means that our customers can receive alarms, meter values, and overall system status. Also, if an RF engineer sets up the network management system to reduce or increase power from the GUI, that can be transferred back to the transmitter to be executed.

Engineers can now access their transmitters on an iPhone or Android device and see the same information as they would on a fullscreen UI.

Engineers can now access their transmitters on an iPhone or Android device and see the same information as they would on a fullscreen UI.

It no longer requires direct access to the transmitter’s dedicated user interface to monitor status and make adjustments, and we no longer have to connect video monitors to a transmitter’s video port. It’s all done over IP, and displays are generated as HTML5 content on our user interface. As an added bonus, smartphones provide engineers with visual monitoring and control access while on the go.

What are customers using now?
There remains a preponderance for the old school in our industry, and especially when it comes to RF. We do still see many legacy monitoring systems in these plants. However, we are seeing a trend where broadcasters are building their own network monitoring systems. Internationally, many broadcasters are outsourcing RF operations to network operators, which have service level agreements to execute on a very tight margin. They were among the first to adopt advanced monitoring systems to ensure that their uptime meets the agreements they signed on to execute.

These network operators are often monitoring hundreds of transmitters, and that’s not possible to achieve economically without an advanced monitoring system. Several GatesAir customers, particularly in western Europe, are monitoring up to 4,000 transmitters now using a single platform, some of which use vendor solutions and some of which have built their own.

Is there newer technology users should upgrade to?
The broadcaster needs to understand what is first possible with the current transmitter in the plant. Foremost, does it support SNMP? If not, it’s time to strongly consider upgrading that transmitter to support full extended MIB capability that is accessible via SNMP. Also, some older monitoring systems had that client/server approach with a dedicated hardware server hosting the monitoring software. That approach is beginning to fade as more broadcasters put their monitoring software into the cloud.

How much control do users want?
That depends a lot on personal philosophy. Some engineers only want to be alerted to major problems, such as the transmitter going off the air. Others with more intensive cost and revenue concerns will want to be notified of lesser issues so that they can make immediate adjustments through remote monitoring and control. However, as older RF engineers retire and become harder to replace, it will become much easier to centralize monitoring and control to external specialists. Simply put, much of this will also be driven by cost considerations. It’s no longer economically viable to have an RF engineer onsite 24/7.

Any synergy with Burk Technology?
GatesAir has cooperated closely with Burk for many years on behalf of our TV and radio customers. They fully understand our MIB structure, and they can translate that to the transmitter control head. They do an excellent job at providing a strong user experience to their customers when it comes to RF monitoring. We often recommend and have resold Burk systems as part of our customer installation projects.

Anything relevant in the GatesAir product development pipeline?
We are constantly adding feature sets to our MIB structures. That's the primary driver as to what we have in our current development line for transmitter monitoring. We believe there are plenty of compelling and professional options out there from vendors that specialize in monitoring and control. We are focused on providing the highest efficiency and highest performing transmitters on the market, and offering interoperability for versatile monitoring and control options and systems as part of that strategy.

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