OK, as a disclosure, I do not own a Ferrari (I say that with just a bit of a ‘sigh’), so I am not part of that elite group.  As a fan of cars, I have always appreciated both the performance and styling of the Prancing Horse. 

One of the downsides to owning such a high-performance car is the cost….both the upfront costs as well as the on-going maintenance.  While there may be a couple of areas that Ferrari owners “scrimp” on when it comes to maintenance, I would be comfortable in wagering that one of the areas that most do not is in the purchase of their tires.  Most of them know the old adage…. “Tires are the only part of the car that touches the ground, so your car is only as good as your tires”.

Along the same lines, most M2M professionals feel the same way about the antenna that is used.  Like a Ferrari needs an excellent set of tires to stay on the track, M2M solutions need an excellent antenna to maintain itself on the wireless network (whether that be WiFi, cellular or satellite).  So, just as you won’t likely see a Ferrari getting a new set of rubber at Wal-Mart, you won’t see most professional M2M solutions using rubber duct antennas.

So…is this a push to try to convince everyone to buy a $200+ antenna for every M2M solution?  Far from it, actually.  In the same way that most owners of a Chevrolet Malibu would not see much of a difference between the OEM tires that they get and a set of $5000 tires, most M2M solutions do not require the absolute top of the line antenna to work.  However, you do need to be sure that you have “more than enough” antenna to get the job done.

Here are some important points to remember:

Assume the worst….it usually happens at some point

You get to a job site to set up a cellular M2M deployment, and you notice that you have 4 bars (out of 5) of signal on your phone.  So, I’ll just put on this $9 duct mount antenna and be done, right?  Maybe, and it may very well work.  However….consider:

•   You are putting the antenna inside of an enclosure, while you were using your phone with no obstruction…..what does that mean in terms of signal strength?

•   What time of day are you there?  Cellular network coverage can decrease during times of heavy usage, so were you there during a busy time, and how might your coverage be affected during lunchtime, as an example?

•   If there is an issue with your closest cellular tower, and your call is serviced by one a little farther away, can your solution still communicate with the network?

In many cases, the answer is still yes to all of these questions, even with a duct mount antenna, but you need to know what you are not only dealing with now, as well as over the next few years….because, as you can see in the next point, it may be cheaper to pay up at first than to pay later.

Cost of ownership needs to be a consideration

Most of you know that I live in Calgary, which is a great city to live in.  It is full of amazing employment opportunities, friendly people and it boasts some of the most beautiful scenery in the world.  However, it is also has a lot of winter!  So, because of this, having a good set of winter tires on your car for a few months of the year is a great idea.

Imagine getting into a car accident in the winter where you could not stop using your all-season tires (but you could have if your car was equipped with snow tires).  What does this cost you……possible insurance premiums, possible time away from work if injured, damage to your car, lost time spent in body shops, etc.  It may even impact other vehicles or innocent people involved in the accident. The costs will often be many times more than the savings that you had by not installing winter tires, and you’ll be safer.

The same can hold true for antennas….you need to factor in the cost of ownership:

•   What does it cost for a site visit when your antenna can no longer reach the network because of a lower signal strength?  What does this cost you in downtime?

•   What is the cost to replace an antenna mid-way through the lifecycle of the modem?  This is both in actual replacement costs, as well as downtime / installation costs.

•   Vandalism does happen to antennas…teenagers, angry employees and even “drunk rednecks with shotguns” (this funny story actually came from the oil rigs, who often find pellets embedded in walls near antennas!).  While not many antennas can withstand a direct hit from a rifle bullet, being able to stand up better to vandalism can make the difference between downtime and uptime.

Antennas are mobile and customizable

Finally, remember that regardless of what antenna you use, you can optimize its performance in two ways:

•   Moving it to a location that is in a “lane of least resistance”.  This was a term that I actually remember from driving school, where I was told to drive in the lane that had less things that can interfere with your car (namely other drivers).  Same with antennas….move them away from machines, outside of thick walls and outside of metal containers.

•   Don’t use more than you need….if your antenna is 4 feet away from your device, don’t keep the extra 11 feet of cable that came with it.  Extra cable length just cuts down on your reception, as every extra inch of cable adds to your signal loss.

Bottom Line

Smart drivers do not scrimp on tires, whether they have a Ferrari or a Ford.  They realize the value that a good set of rubber has.  Use the same rule for your M2M deployments….buy more antenna than you need and you’ll be happy you did.

As always, Novotech is ready to assist with your M2M needs. Whether you’re looking to control, track, monitor or back-up, Novotech has the solutions and products you need. View our Line Cards and let us know how we can be of assistance.

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