August 31, 2021
As electricity grid operators strive to bring resiliency systems into the intelligent era, more have turned to private LTE connectivity.
Even when other parts of the public Internet fall over, data connectivity to electricity grids must be rock solid. Otherwise power outages become more frequent, harming business operations and economic productivity.
Grid operators use SCADA – or Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition – to access equipment data. This usually involves programmable logic controllers linked to the devices in the field, which store the status of circuit breakers, capacitors or flow switches.
For the security and dependability of this vital infrastructure to be maintained, communications need to modernize to enable end-to-end digitization of data collection processes.
Private LTE is optimal for this task because it enables operators to adjust radio frequencies to locate the “sweet spot” for the coverage area, according to Phil Rigden, telecoms manager for Western Power Distribution, an electricity grid operator in the UK’s Midlands, South West of England and South Wales regions.
That will help maintain SCADA’s existing ubiquity but will also pave the way for new applications exploiting its data and the benefits of low-latency LTE connectivity.
Voice, video and specialist data extracted from power substations and overheads make LTE an enticing advance for keeping the lights on, Rigden argued, but going private also provides a buffer from overload issues on public cellular services.
WPD is testing a network slicing component, for instance, that would enable other utilities in the U.K. to run modern data systems on the same infrastructure without intermingling data.
Rigden argued SCADA operators were well-prepared for the upgrade having already evolved to incorporate radio, GPRS and satellite transmissions.
“[Currently,] SCADA is suitable for adaptation as we digitize our industry,” Rigden said. “It is the data for new entrants which is the game changer and how we make it available to them to openly promote new and innovative use cases,” he said.
WPD commissioned its new private LTE technology from Nokia, which is currently running at “4.9G” speeds, with a plan to upgrade to 5G in the future. Rigden is confident that the radio frequencies identified using Nokia’s kit during trials will cover the rolling landscape that WPD occupies.
“Not only have we proved that private LTE exists; it works.” He said, “For our use case, it requires a spectrum sweet spot to ensure the network configuration of masts and base stations are not too great in number … reaching remote assets located in valleys and basins.”
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