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Energy Central Power Perspectives™: Welcome Carlos L’Abbate, New Expert in the Digital Utility Community

Posted to Energy Central in the Digital Utility Group

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Matt Chester's picture
Energy Analyst Chester Energy and Policy

Official Energy Central Community Manager of Generation and Energy Management Networks. Matt is an energy analyst in Orlando FL (by way of Washington DC) working as an independent energy...

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The power utility sector and the telecom sector at one point were considered completely separate industries, both providing essential services to all their customers, but not too much overlap other than the fact that power companies used telecommunications and telecom companies needed energy.

That is no longer the world we live in.

Energy and communication industries are getting more and more intertangled as 5G and broadband technologies become essential for creating the modern, smart grid of the future; data collection, protection, and processing are mission critical for power utilities; and the overlap simply becomes greater and greater.

As we move into this brave new world, it’s organizations like Anterix that are bridging that gap and industry experts like Carlos L’Abbate, Chief Technology & Engineering Officer at Anterix, are proving to be key voices to guide the future of energy.

Recognizing the importance and value of these voices, Energy Central couldn’t be more excited to welcome Carlos as the latest member of our Network of Experts, specifically in the Digital Utility community. To provide a background on Carlos and his perspective in these key areas, he joined me as a part of the Energy Central Power Perspective ‘Welcome New Expert Interview Series.’

Enjoy!

Matt Chester: I’m happy to welcome you to the community, Carlos, and to be able to introduce you to the Energy Central community. Let’s start there—can you introduce the Energy Central readers to your background and what’s gone into your journey in the utility industry?

Carlos L’Abbate: My career has been focused on dependable, mission-critical wireless communication technology. During the past two decades, I have designed and architected radio-access and wireless networks for both enterprise and consumer users. I have overseen technology and product development, wireless standards creation and implementation and technical vendor selection for companies in the United States and for networks across five countries. In all of these positions, my focus was on creating standards based, reliable and resilient communications networks and applications. At Anterix, I am applying that expertise to private wireless broadband network creation for the utility sector.

As the Chief Technology Officer of Anterix, I lead the company’s technology and engineering vision to enable the successful customer pursuit and deployment of 900 MHz private broadband networks for utilities and critical infrastructure entities across the United States. These modern wireless networks are a flat architecture that will allow utilities to run multiple types of use cases while they deliver the quality of service and performance their customers require.

Private LTE networks must be integrated with existing systems, and this requires interoperability. The telecommunications expertise that Anterix brings to the table can help utilities successfully integrate systems. Without interoperability between utilities’ existing systems and their new wireless communications platforms, they will face a difficult migration to new technology solutions. Interoperability is in some cases complex and must be addressed on a case-by-case basis. At Anterix, we know how to both support interoperability between new and existing platforms, and how modern broadband flat architecture can address multiple utility use cases.

 

MC: Working on the technology side of Anterix must be incredibly exciting. Can you share with us some of the recent and upcoming developments that you think are going to be game changers in the industry?

CL: It is exciting to be part of the Anterix team as we bring new technology solutions to support grid modernization. Today, utilities are challenged to create greater grid resiliency and reliability while implementing needed solutions for data analytics, cybersecurity, two-way energy flow all while continuing to provide their customers with continuous service.

A new development here is that utilities now can use spectrum to create private LTE networks to streamline and unify their wireless communications systems to do all of these things and more. In the past, technology that was available to utilities forced them to create vertical systems, so they really had no way to properly integrate systems. Now with 900 MHz spectrum, which became available to utilities for private LTE networks in May 2020, they can combine their vertical systems onto a single platform and deploy a new network that supports all of their use cases. 

So, instead of operating multiple radio networks with multiple devices that don’t communicate, utility networks will be like the consumer internet experience to which we have become accustomed. When we get a new phone or PC, we plug it into Wi-Fi or a wired network anywhere, and it works. That’s what modern wireless networks will create for utilities. The only concern they will have when they choose to deploy new technology or services via these networks is whether they have enough capacity to handle the traffic. As they become accustomed to the smooth integration and implementation of new technology onto their private LTE network, I suspect utilities will find many new use cases and opportunities that we cannot even imagine right now.

Another major game changer is that private LTE networks offer utilities greater control. In contrast to an existing commercial network, private LTE networks protect the utility from commercial network outages and offer the ability to manage their own traffic rather than hope the commercial carrier will prioritize it.

Another area of greater control lies in cybersecurity, which is top-of-mind for every industry. Traditionally, networks in practically every industry are designed and implemented before securing the network is considered.  Through deployment of a private LTE network, a utility can make cybersecurity a foundational element of its deployment plan which is a critical change. When cybersecurity is included as a guiding principle of a network, you can mitigate any issues that could potentially slow or deteriorate performance of applications.

MC: When it comes to implementing these technological solutions, do you find that utility leaders readily understand why they are important and what they can do, or do you find yourself having to be a cheerleader and advocate for them still?

CL: Leaders in the utility industry readily understand their needs and goals, as well as the challenges they are facing as they modernize. Where Anterix helps is in educating about the different types of spectrum and what they can offer utilities, as well as how private LTE networks can help them support technological solutions to fulfill those needs and goals.

Honestly, utilities are far ahead of other sectors in the possibility of building their own private networks because they already own most of the assets that are critical elements of wireless infrastructure. For example, most utilities own fiber, real estate – substations, poles, transmission towers – and communications transport/backhaul networks, etc. All of these can be used to support wireless networks. This is an incredible advantage.

If I advocate in any other area, it is in the path to evolution of their network. Because utilities have traditionally been forced to adopt technology that ended up silo ’ed, obsolete or incompatible, they may not realize that private LTE networks actually provide them with a foundation for communications that can grow and evolve as they need. They also support many different use cases and technologies and the critical capability of interoperability between applications and technologies.

 

MC: What are some of the biggest technological challenges that you’re still trying to overcome when it comes to the large-scale goal of getting private broadband networks for utilities?

CL: One of the biggest challenges is how to create a blueprint for technology architecture and a design that not only fits the needs of each utility but also can be replicated across the industry at the same time. Once use cases are understood and mapped into the private broadband network, the challenge will be how to plan the migration of existing systems with as little disruption as possible. Luckily, as I have pointed out, this transition is virtually seamless, and the network can be deployed when the utility is ready to do so. 

Another challenge is that utilities may not understand how working together can increase the benefits of private LTE networks. A standardized nationwide network of interconnected private LTE networks offers utilities economies of scale and scope, creates greater buying power and allows them to leverage technological innovation. All of these ultimately lead to greater benefits for consumers.

Utilities that are willing to work with others also will realize greater cybersecurity, greater control, enhanced interoperability, etc., on an even greater scale through the opportunity to share data, resources and support. If a utility doesn’t take the opportunity to work with other utilities to create an interoperable regional and nationwide network, there is a chance that the systems they implement will lag industry standards and introduction of new features.

 

MC: If you could leave the Energy Central readers with one takeaway using this platform, what would it be? What’s the message you want to share from the rooftops?

CL: There is a tremendous opportunity for utilities to transform their operations when they build private LTE networks on low-band spectrum, such as 900 MHz. As wireless carriers around the globe have demonstrated, low-band spectrum serves as the foundational coverage layer for wide-area deployments, such as utility service territories. It allows signals to carry farther and to better penetrate walls and foliage. This equates to considerably fewer cell sites to cover a given area, which translates to a material advantage in both economics and performance, truly the best of both worlds if you are designing a new network.

The market has shown that the appetite for the spectrum needed for these networks is there.  There is limited spectrum available, however, so utilities that truly are interested need to look at early adoption or risk losing the opportunity.

______________________________________

Thanks to Carlos L’Abbate for joining me for this interview and for providing a wealth of insights an expertise to the Energy Central Community. You can trust that Carlos will be available for you to reach out and connect, ask questions, and more as an Energy Central member, so be sure to make him feel welcome when you see him across the platform.

 

The other expert interviews that we’ve completed in this series can be read here, and if you are interested in becoming an expert then you can reach out to me or you can apply here.

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