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As the utilities and power industry across North America continues its transformation – adopting IoT and upgrading to smarter grids among other technological changes – organizations operating in the oil, gas and electric sector are increasingly turning to Private LTE to support their advanced connectivity needs. 

The utilities sector still has a way to go from achieving the potential benefits of enhanced connectivity. According to estimates by McKinsey Energy Insights, 2020, “making use of advanced connectivity to optimize drilling and production throughput and improve maintenance and field operations could add up to $250 billion of value to the [oil and gas] industry’s upstream operations by 2030.”   

The rise of advanced analytics, intelligent automated devices, real-time control, devices with sensors and cloud connectivity paired with stagnant demand, consumers accustomed to a higher level of service and responsiveness with other industries, and outside competition are some of the top reasons utilities companies need to decentralize networks and move to wireless solutions to enhance  efficiencies and resolve challenges, along with lowering costs.

FCC’s ruling opens up opportunities for advanced connectivity for utilities industries

In recognizing that next generation, mission-critical applications cannot be served by narrowband systems, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) made a key segment of the spectrum available for electric utilities in May 2020. This newly available segment, six megahertz of 900 MHz, will allow the broadband data platforms to support the modern electric grid and drive digital transformation of the utilities sector.  

FCC chairman, Ajit Pai commented: “Broadband access will enable industries to leverage technologies for applications like private LTE networks – next-generation networks that can enable Voice over LTE, grid resiliency and monitoring, wildfire mitigation, enhanced cyber security, and more. Utilities are eager to use broadband to modernize the electric grid.” 

A growing number of utility companies in the US are embracing Private LTE, including San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) which spent $21 million to acquire three Priority Access Licenses (PALs) at a CBRS auction. The utility company plans to utilize its private LTE network for various use cases including metering, faulted circuit indication, mission critical push-to-talk and supervisory control and data acquisition.

Southern California Edison, a utility in a state hard-hit by fires in recent years, foresees that private mobile broadband will enable them to better utilize monitoring technologies to detect and extinguish fires caused by downed power lines.

Similarly, Xcel, NYPA and Ameren are among the seven utility members of the Utility Broadband Alliance, which promotes the advancement and development of private broadband networks for America’s critical infrastructure industries. 

Utilities broadband

How Private LTE helps address challenges faced by power and utility companies

Broadband spectrum will be fundamental in supporting deployment of smart grid technologies in rural or remote areas, monitoring and controlling field devices remotely, teleprotection to guard against potentially hazardous faults, distribution automation to intelligently route power through the grid, metering, video, security, and other applications.

Private LTE supports power companies to deliver seamless, robust connectivity which is particularly crucial as utility companies have had to overcome the restrictions that COVID-19 has placed on them. 

Utility providers are under constant pressure to use the most reliable and secure networks possible. This becomes more complicated with the addition of multiple and distributed energy sources. A private LTE system owned, operated and maintained by energy utilities for their exclusive use, can protect utility operations from malicious intent and mitigate the consequences of the unforeseen events. 

Another big benefit of private LTE is that it offers a seamless migration path to 5G. Power companies that deploy private LTE networks will be perfectly placed to upgrade to 5G when the need arises and when the broader grid assets and workforce management ecosystem supports 5G.

Other advantages of private LTE include:

  • More control over the product lifecycle
  • Economy of scale by reducing the number of disparate networks to manage
  • Selection from several standards-based LTE endpoint manufacturers, which allows for a more plug-and-play environment
  • Potentially lower maintenance costs compared with a variety of other communication alternatives

Privately owned LTE networks provide utilities with increased reliability and control, can scale to the present and future needs of the changing grid, and enable future distribution applications. 

Forward-thinking utilities are looking at using private wireless networks for everything from employee communications to drone management to protection from a catastrophic “Black Sky” event that would wipe out all communications networks. 

The FCC order makes it clear that private LTE is a reality in grid modernization, and utilities eager to plan for the inevitable communications transformation can benefit from the newly available spectrum.

BLiNQ Networks’ OnGo-certified wireless connectivity solutions are cost-effective, powerful, and easy to deploy, offering faster speeds and greater range than other alternatives. BLiNQ is also a proud Utility Broadband Alliance (UBBA) member. Talk to us today to learn more about our range of CBRS offerings and find the right solution for you today.