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IEC-101 protocol in balanced vs. unbalanced mode in a system

with IEC-104 as a long distance communication protocol

Description Differences between IEC-101 unbalanced vs. balanced mode

Version 1.0
Status Final
Classification External

Version history
1.0 Final, 6.5.2008, Jari Lahti

1. Background

This document shortly describes the balanced and unbalanced modes of IEC-101 protocol and IEC-
104 protocol. The focus is to describe the differences of these protocols and how a system shall be
configured in which IEC-101 is used as a local protocol (serial line communication) at the remote
sites and IEC-104 (TCP/IP, wireless network (GPRS)) is used for a long distance communication
between remote sites and central site (SCADA).

2. IEC-101, balanced mode

The balanced mode on IEC-101 means that either the RTU or SCADA can initiate the connection.
Typically it is used on circuit-switched/dial-up (e.g. PSTN modem) based networks where the
connection cannot be always "on" for following reason:

Dial-up networks are point-to-point. If there is a single modem on SCADA side it can be
connected to a single RTU simultaneously
Dial-up networks are typically pay-per-time making it unpractical to keep the line constantly
connected. In this kind of system the balanced mode can be used to achieve higher
efficiency. The RTU will dial-up to SCADA when it has information to send (e.g. events).
The SCADA can also dial-up to RTU in order to make control or monitoring actions etc.

The Balanced mode is not practical on shared-media networks (e.g. radio modem network, RS-485
network) where the centralized polling is required in order to manage the usage of the shared

3. IEC-101, unbalanced mode

When the IEC-101 is used on unbalanced mode only the SCADA can initiate the connection to
RTU, not other way around. This also means that the SCADA needs to poll the RTU for events
quite frequently to get the required information.

Typically the RTU can be configured to the unbalanced mode but many RTUs additionally support
also the balanced mode.

4. IEC-104

The IEC-104 connection establishment is like on unbalanced mode meaning only the SCADA can
initiate the connection to RTU. On the other hand the event transmission on IEC-104 is
asynchroneous meaning once the connection is established the RTU can send the events
spontaneously to SCADA without the polling.

The IEC-104 has been implemented to operate over packet-switched TCP/IP networks (e.g.
Ethernet, GPRS) which are typically pay-per-use or flat-fee instead of pay-per-time making it
practical to keep the connection always on.

5. Arctic IEC-104 Gateway in a system with IEC-101 and IEC-104 protocols used.

The Arctic IEC-104 Gateway makes unbalanced IEC-101 RTUs to look like balanced mode RTUs
by constantly polling the RTU locally (over the serial cable) and sending the events spontaneously
to IEC-104 SCADA when they occur. This eliminates the need to poll the RTU remotely (over IEC-

Configuring the RTU to use balanced mode does not provide additional benefits because in the
IEC-104 there is no mechanism to form a connection from Arctic to SCADA but the SCADA
should instead always keep the connection between itself and the Arctic.

When there is no connection between the Arctic and the SCADA the Arctic will not poll the RTU
for events ensuring no events are lost. The events keep stored on the RTU and will be acquired by
Arctic once the IEC-104 connection is established.