UTC outlines utilities’ unique communication network requirements
The Utilities Telecom Council (UTC) recently released a report, and corresponding webinar, that articulates the key requirements utilities and communications service providers must meet in order to provide the reliable, robust, secure and ubiquitous communications that utilities require to build smart energy grids. The study, “Utility Communications Needs: Key Factors That Impact Utility Communications Networks,” provides the technical factors that utilities and their technology partners must take into account to deliver critical utility communication services, such as high reliability, higher bandwidth, very low latency, ubiquitous coverage, tight security and uninterrupted power supplies.
While utilities hope to be rewarded 30 MHz of spectrum, Cynthia Brumfield, director of research, said the UTC study doesn’t discuss spectrum issues. Instead, it addresses the key technical and operational standards that must be met to develop a reliable, robust network. Brumfield said UTC researchers looked at several factors, drilled down technical considerations, and found it is essential for utility communications networks is to provide at least 99.9% reliability coupled with uninterrupted backup power.
“Those are the key factors that distinguish utility networks from other communication networks,” she said. “Because the electric grid is so contingent on its communication system, if you don’t have those pieces in place you are placing the grid at risk.”
Brumfield said commercial communications service providers face increased opportunities to work in partnership with utilities to build out networks. However, to be successful, the providers must meet the industry’s needs for reliability and cost requirements. She said there is a notion that utilities build their own networks because of the aforementioned reasons, such as uninterruptible backup power, which is not something most communication service providers emphasize.
“So I think there’s this notion that you have utility networks that are completely separate from public communication networks,” Brumfield said. “What we found through research is they are already relying on outside telecom providers for a lot of their communication services and, moving forward, there is a lot of opportunity for outside providers to meet the utility industry’s growing needs because smart grid is going to expand those needs.”