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The Advantages of Private LTE Networks for Smart Grids

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Rost Bitterlikh's picture
VP R&D MaxBill

I'm a Vice President of research and development at MaxBill, where my knowledge of billing processes helps to lead the team in building and improving the modern solution for utility providers....

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This item is part of the Special Issue - 2020-08 - LTE Networks, click here for more

The interest in Long-Term Evolution (LTE) networks’ benefits has been growing for some time now, especially in the utility sector.  We’ve seen a sophisticated discussion about the application of private LTE networks for utilities at the beginning of 2020. In March, the pandemic hit, and digital transformation became the priority for almost every company.

Earlier this year, I wrote about the role of the grid in the future of the utility industry, regarding the renewables. Today, I’d like to continue the conversation about the smart grid and the advantages of LTE networks in particular.

Better Security for Smarter Operations

The utility sector has been identified as critical infrastructure, and any possible disruption inside the system may result in regional-wide complications. It’s true, that utility providers are under constant pressure to use the most reliable and secure networks possible. However, it’s even more relevant in regards to the smart grid, which becomes complicated with the inclusion of many distributed energy sources. The growing number of key nodes means the increasing vulnerability to attacks and outages. Private LTE networks, on the other hand, can both shield the utility operations from malicious intent and mitigate the consequences of the unforeseen events.

If the network, including the transport, is owned and operated by a provider, it will be less sensitive to attacks than leased lines or services. Furthermore, LTE is encrypted and based on standards that have been in place for 10+ years already, while being overseen by the 3GPP body. It means smoother and safer integration of technological innovations into the grid, lowering the entry threshold for DERs, like independent renewable energy producers and providers.

Managing and healing the complex grid is also a very real pain point for utilities, that can be helped by the LTE network adoption. Data, received from IoT devices, can then be used to automate the process of outage identification and energy distribution adjustment. This way, the potential downtime can be shortened while also taking pressure off the personnel and reducing the cost of the repairs. Additionally, the fully dedicated network can ensure the grid visibility for utility even in case of the power shortage.

Better Connectivity for Ever-Growing Grid

With the evolution of the grid, the number of utility applications that require high bandwidth and low latency capabilities grows rapidly. The reasons for this are the digitalization of the operations in the utility sector, the increasing complexity of the grid with the addition of a big number of independent energy providers, and high expectations from the consumers in terms of customer service and power consumption. Private LTE allows utilities to operate all the needed applications within a single network while meeting all connectivity needs.

For example, the ability to manage a large number of applications faster and more transparently is especially vital for incorporating wind and solar into the grid. With connectivity available thanks to the LTE network, utilities will be able to read real-time data on the particular sources and therefore measure up the energy supply to demand, without overspending by purchasing electricity on spot markets.  

Another field that can benefit greatly from transparency and the possibility of live monitoring, is customer service. Smart homes are becoming a reality, and the providers have to keep up with this technological advancement. Virtually any device can have a meter to collect the data on its energy use and the users will want to know how it affects their electricity bill. LTE provides the level of connectivity that allows the collection and analysis of customers’ data, that will lead to a variety of potential actions taken by the company. The provider can utilize it to create custom-tailored offers with value-added services for each group of end-users. It can also be shown in the invoice provided for each household to help increase the trust and awareness of the customers.

Taking the Advantages of the LTE Networks Further

While the adoption of LTE networks can and will bring a lot of advantages to the utility sector, it doesn’t exist in a vacuum. To garner the most benefits, it is essential to understand what other advancements would work best while jointed with the particular technology.

Licensed spectrum for utility networks is one of the initiatives that will ensure that private LTE network will deliver the promised functionality. The concerns around the spectrum availability already accompany many of the 5G-related conversations. As the unlicensed spectrum becomes more and more crowded, it cannot support the private network anymore, as it is not truly private.

The past couple of months, filled with the lockdown-related disruptions and weather-related issues in some regions, have proven once again, that the utility sector is vital for the well-being of the entire nation. Its stability and security shouldn’t be compromised in any way. This is exactly why it is time for utilities to embrace the private LTE networks operating in the licensed frequencies, which bring better connectivity, reliability and resiliency while allowing for wider automation.

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