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24 September 2013

Land Lines Provide a Secure Lifeline to Vital Network Assets

Many different industries use remote systems for equipment monitoring; POS, building automation, Time & Attendance, power quality and usage monitoring, leak and level detection, etc. Remote monitoring serves a crucial role in ensuring optimum operations through the necessary flow and exchange of information.   

While many remote monitoring systems are now IP based, communications through the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) continues to be integral to the overall function. Whereas many polling operations continue to use a phone line for the primary communications path where a broadband connection is impractical or power outages prevail, it can also serve as a “redundant” path for operations that are considered mission critical and require consistency in retrieving their data.  In these applications, the Plain Old Telephone Service (POTS) line is the “out-of-band” back up communications link for these remote networks.

OOBNM

IN-Band Network Access

OOBNM Figure 2

Out-of-Band Network Access (via PSTN)

Having survived numerous assaults from competing technologies such as ISDN, cellular, and wireless services, the phone line is still considered the most secure and reliable in the communications world. It’s hardened, reliable, pervasive, and resistant to cyber attacks. Often, it’s the only form of communications available during natural disasters. Since the PSTN provides its own line voltage, it even works during power outages.

Except for bandwidth, monitoring systems based on phone lines can duplicate the functionality that Internet Protocol (IP) and wireless communications have to offer. Information can be accessed through a browser or smart-phone app. Additionally, data can interface with cloud-based mapping and database services.

Costs are generally less too. If the monitored location is already wired, it can share an existing line with the use of a phone-line sharing device. If the building is not wired, the installation of a new phone service is less expensive than the installation of new data service. Setup and operation of a phone-based monitoring system is easy, whereas attaching to an existing data network may involve the IT department.

When Land-Line Communication Makes Sense

No one can deny the many benefits that IP and wireless communications have to offer, especially in terms of bandwidth and connectivity. But in the real world of remote monitoring, you may encounter obstacles to IP and wireless communications that are easily circumvented by the use of a phone line.

Consider an application that involves equipment in numerous unattended buildings dispersed over a very large geographic area. Connecting the remote monitoring system to an IP or wireless communications network can be as difficult as trying to get an IT department to punch a hole through its firewall, while establishing phone line communications can be as easy as a phone call to the local phone company. Although every site can present its own unique set of installation issues, the cost and difficulty of installing a phone line is fairly constant.  If a phone line is already in use at the remote site, other devices can “share” the line with the use of a line-sharing device such as the Multi-Link ACP Series 2.0 (available in 3, 5, and 9 port configurations).

Wireless communication presents the additional concerns of coverage gaps (especially in remote areas) and service degradation due to weather, foliage, or new construction. Any communications method is subject to service interruption and dispatching a service technician can be very costly, whereas problems related to the phone line are the responsibility of the phone company.

TCP/IP Network Outages

If your business operations rely on data collected from monitoring systems at remote sites, you need to consider the impact of events that can instantly cut you off from all of your remote sites for an extended period of time.

Orchestrated attacks on communications networks are a growing concern. These attacks may be directed specifically at your organization or at the country in general, and they can block communications to all of your remote locations. Phone lines are less susceptible to such attacks.

A far less nefarious concern, especially for IP and wireless remote monitoring systems, is the reliability of the chain of custody of your data as it moves from your remote site through an ISP, through various third-party cloud services, and through a server to your browser.

A break in any link of that chain, whether it’s due to a hardware fault, software glitch, or something else, will impact your entire network. A remote monitoring network based on phone lines gives you the insurance of being able to bypass that chain of custody and collect data directly from the remote monitoring system.

An Affordable Alternative

The Multi-Link ACP Series 2.0, allows for RJ11 connections to multiple dial up devices, all on a single phone line.  Each port/device has a specific Security Access Code for connecting to the device, providing a level of security to prevent unauthorized access.

ACP series 2.0

The Multi-Link ACP automatically answers the inbound call and directs it to the appropriate device, phone/phone system, fax machine, or a specific dial up modem which is determined by the user assigned Security Access Code.  Inbound and outbound data calls are transparent.  Many companies utilize all ports for information devices.

The need for “redundancy” is becoming more and more important to operations polling remote data.  Networks have issues from time to time.  Companies realize that a back up “out of band” communications path is imperative for successfully retrieving data or completing credit/debit card transactions.  Network service ports also have to be accessed for remote system diagnosis.  One or more ports of the ACP can be used for this remote service access.

The Multi-Link ACP is available in 3, 5, and 9 port versions. All connections are standard RJ11 telephone connectors.  The 7 segment display shows the port in use, and provides a visual of the programming values.  The ACP-300, 500, and 900 are supported with a two year warranty. Nearly 1 million Multi-Link devices are in use in North America.  And, they’re made in the U.S.A.

Parting Thoughts

Managing telecom isn’t only about controlling cost. It’s also about efficiency…..making sure you’re doing more with less, making smarter business decisions.
Telecom and Network Support are more closely related than you think.  A telephone line continues to be an integral part of the Network…..it SUPPORTS the Network in times of trouble. Maybe it’s time to look at your telecom and network support with fresh eyes, to see if you’re using the two communications paths effectively, and in harmony. 

So don’t consider telephone lines obsolete. They might be the right answer for a quick, easy, and cost-efficient installation.