Wired vs Wireless SCADA: The Future of Telemetry

Today’s new normal of constant monitoring and reporting via smartphones, apps, and mobile trackers is founded on the same science researchers, engineers, and municipalities have been using to keep our cities, industries, and infrastructure operating smoothly. It’s called telemetry, and it’s been quietly transmitting all digital data that makes the modern age possible, especially for infrastructure systems like water management and utility services.

What is telemetry? 

Telemetry is the wired or wireless transmission and reception of data for the purpose of remotely monitoring conditions or equipment. The term is also used in reference to the signals containing such data. Telemetry is especially important for municipalities because the data transmitted can detect equipment and power failures, overflow avoidance, leak detection, tank level controls, water usage monitoring, tracking pump and valve performance, water loss tracking, and more. Early detection of any breach or risk means a quicker response and more control over the damage. 
The software that pairs telemetry with utility services is called SCADA—supervisory control and data acquisition. SCADA gathers data in real time from remote locations in order to control equipment and conditions.

Choosing the best SCADA system: Type and Cost

Utility and water management departments must consider many factors when choosing the best SCADA solution, however the two key factors are usually type of SCADA and cost.

SCADA Types

There are five main types of SCADA that management systems can use, including wired, wireless, polled, report by exception, and hybrid versions. Today, we’ll focus on the difference between two options: wired (radio) versus wireless (satellite).
1. Wired/Radio — Usually located in a plant, uses Ethernet, dial-up phone lines and leased lines to remote sites, and used by landline phone dialers. 
2. Wireless/Satellite — In-plant wireless networks like WiFi or Zigbee allows point-to-point radio networks with repeaters (licensed and unlicensed), relies on cellular networks (ATT, Verizon, Sprint, etc.), as well as satellite networks (Iridium, Orbcomm, Inmarset).

SCADA Costs

Budget is usually one of the biggest concerns for a municipality. Decision-makers must factor in not just the initial cost of a solution, but also the price tag for maintenance and support. A wired system’s initial charge includes engineering costs, such as radio surveys and licenses, equipment cost per site, and installation costs, as well as the upkeep of physical units. Add in the overhead of individuals physically checking on the units and costs add up quickly. 
By taking SCADA to a wireless or cloud-based system, important information is now available to users anywhere, with access to the Internet, at a much lower overall cost. Wireless is particularly beneficial in the field, where access to critical data is most valuable.
With the advancement of digital capabilities and the internet of things, the cloud-based SCADA solution is quickly outpacing and outperforming the wired approach. Plant managers also see that a satellite SCADA solution pays for itself with preventative maintenance cost savings. Now that the technology is available, it only makes sense to invest in the best solutions for utility services and water management.