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Security another reason utilities are trying private LTE networks

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Electric power companies are finding many uses for private wireless broadband networks — from voice and data communications to piloting and getting pictures and data from unmanned aerial vehicles as they inspect power lines.

The CEO of a company that wants to provide 900 megahertz spectrum to electric power companies for wireless networks using the Long-Term Evolution standard thinks they can be used to increase cybersecurity, too.

Anterix President and CEO Rob Schwartz told International Wireless Communications Expo’s Urgent Communications website earlier this month that his company is looking at hardware and software security products that can deployed with LTE networks.

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If a utility is putting a communications node that’s going to control a transformer on the pole on which the transformer is located, it “can actually put a physical piece of hardware that’s doing a level of monitoring or control” on the pole, too, Schwartz told Donny Jackson.

“There are some really neat solutions that are best applied to some of these industrial users of private LTE, so that they can have this enhanced layer of security on top of what’s already a secure system with LTE.”

Schwartz made the comments for a story about Anterix signing its first deal to lease spectrum to an investor-owned utility — Ameren, to be precise — for 30 years.

The lease, which also has a 10-year renewal option, “is a pretty strong statement that we are here to stay,” Schwartz said.

Dominion Energy also is looking at bolstering its cybersecurity as one of the applications of a private LTE network it is testing, but with a more apocalyptic bent.

In its application for an experimental license to test the network that it filed with the Federal Communications Commission last October, Dominion Energy Virginia said it “is hardening key assets to improve security defenses against physical and cyber-attacks, including an electro-magnetic pulse (EMP) event. Key components of a private LTE network would be integrated into hardened sites to provide a robust communications capability in the event of a Black Sky scenario that would disrupt conventional means of communications.”

After the FCC granted Dominion the experimental license earlier this month, Mike Dano, Fierce Wireless’ 5G & mobile strategies director, took notice of Dominion’s mention of a Black Sky scenario in its application and went to the Electric Infrastructure Security Council website for this cheery definition of the term: “A Black Sky hazard is a catastrophic event that severely disrupts the normal functioning of our critical infrastructures in multiple regions for long durations.”

Maybe if the test proves successful and Dominion deploys a private LTE network, it should consider marketing the network's post-EMP functioning capabilities to the public with the slogan: “If Virginia goes Mad Max, Dominion’s got your back.”

 

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