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Private LTE offers utilities the ability to converge many disparate networks

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

Traditionally utilities have deployed many disparate networks for various mission critical applications including voice, SCADA, AMI and backhaul.  The technologies deployed have varied from land mobile radios (LMR), licensed and unlicensed radios, and mesh radios to high capacity point to point radios.  These radios historically have been proprietary and vendor specific implementations. There is an emerging trend towards converging these networks onto a singular high-speed low latency and highly secure standards-based private LTE network.

The recent direction of the regulatory landscape has fueled a change in the options for future utility networks.  Specifically, the recent FCC rulings in the CBRS and the 900 MHz spectrum has made it possible for utilities to deploy private LTE networks.  These networks offer high bandwidth and low latency with unprecedented levels of security that is being demanded in today’s utility networks to meet the NERC/CIP guidelines.

Because of the bandwidth afforded in these 4G and 5G networks, utilities no longer need to operate disparate and mission specific networks and instead can combine these networks onto a private LTE network.  The benefits of doing so are many, including being standards based (vendor agnostic), secure and future proof.  The ability to do voice over LTE, Quality of Service for mission critical SCADA and high bandwidth for backhaul applications make private LTE a great option for future utility networks.

Many questions and challenges exist on how these networks can be deployed.  Key factors include the ability of utilities to have the expertise to deploy these networks.  Many utilities are facing an aging work force with the knowledge of their existing networks and little to no knowledge of 4G/5G technology.  IT/OT convergence is proving to be challenging to many utilities who look to have common network architectures and technology throughout the utility network.  4G/5G technology offers a solution to these problems while private implementations give the utilities the control over these networks that they often demand.

4G vs. 5G, what to deploy?  There is much debate on whether to deploy today on 4G on CBRS or Band 8 900 MHz or hold off for the future of 5G.  While the benefits of 5G are distinct, one can argue that none apply to the utility space.  Those benefits include enhanced mobile broadband, Ultra Reliable Low Latency Communications (4G is low enough latency for utility networks) and massive machine type connections. Additionally, the infrastructure required to implement 5G on millimeter wave with significant range reduction is counter to a utility’s requirement to deploy a network over a diverse geographic area.

Utilities are facing an important decision on how to migrate their current networks.  Private 4G LTE on the existing spectrum options pose an intriguing alternative to owning and operating the many disparate networks they have today. This however may create a challenge in obtaining the skilled workforce necessary to operate these networks. It may force the business model to change towards outsourcing the operation of these networks through service entities to build and operate these networks either “on premises” or in the cloud.

Chris  Trabold's picture

Thank Chris for the Post!

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