Network Communication Made Cost Effective

Utilities don’t have to spend a lot of money to make their networks more efficient.
Published: Wed 04 Feb 2015

Utilities have got a real opportunity to improve the level of communications in their networks since currently, most have very little. Operations staff are in the dark (excuse the pun) about their networks which can seriously limit their ability to manage the network more effectively. This is according to Ian Troughton, CEO of 4RF, a leading developer and manufacturer of high performance radio communications equipment for critical infrastructure applications.

Long range, flexibility and reliability

He says that these utilities now have access to technology which has evolved, making it easier to deploy new technology with confidence. One of the key factors is the move to Ethernet/Internet Protocol which means that there is a standardization of equipment across all networks - not just communication networks but every device in every facility.

“With this standardization, risks that utilities will always be concerned about, such as finding themselves locked into one provider or having a deployed technology become obsolete, have receded” explains Troughton. “There is now technology which can be widely deployed with peace of mind. Communications equipment deployed in the distribution network will vary according to specific needs in various areas. For instance, the technology needed in urban areas will be very different to widespread areas - the deployment of broadband or cellular is not viable over large geographic areas for example. In addition, bandwidth requirements will differ considerably.

“Utilities are calling for a wide coverage and reliability when it comes to communications needs. We have taken on this challenge in terms of technology that will work even over larger widespread areas,” says Troughton.

With this move to the Ethernet/IP, some products are not particularly well suited to dealing with the constraints of a narrow bandwidth. He adds, “It is important that the efficiency of a device (the radio in our case) is maximised. Utilities must get the maximum out of the radio spectrum they have.”

“We have chosen to develop our SCADA radio in frequencies that are available to any utility anywhere in the world meaning that they don’t have to pay massive fees for spectrum or compete with the budgets of cellular companies. Narrow frequency channels are much more cost effective but if you are going to use smaller channels you must use them efficiently and intelligently. In response, 4RF has developed a point-to-multipoint radio, the Aprisa SR+, which is much faster and more efficient than any other similar product.”

The company claims that the Aprisa SR+ is the highest capacity licensed narrowband point-to-multipoint radio in the market, delivering over 200kbit/s in 50kHz channels for the most data-intensive applications with little to no compromise in operating range. With a narrower 12.5kHz channel the Aprisa SR+ provides up to 60kbit/s, with greater range than its competitors that operate in one-third the data rate.

Getting more out of the existing infrastructure

The grid has become a lot more complex and the need for infrastructure and system upgrades is growing. But, Troughton believes that utilities don’t have to spend a lot of money to make their networks more efficient.

“While utilities know that they have to upgrade their systems, our products give them the ability to replace equipment according to their own timetable with less pressure. It is important as a radio manufacturer that our radios work with both modern and legacy devices. Utilities like this kind of flexibility.”

Security is also now a major concern for utilities as the grid becomes a major target for hackers. Says Troughton about their new technology: “The embedded NIST standard AES and CCM based encryption and authentication provides both message information confidentiality as well as message integrity, to protect against ‘man in the middle’ attacks. 4RF’s Aprisa XE, point to point, an all-in-one SCADA solution, provides increased security standards and SNMP management, coupled with the wide geographic distribution of assets resulting in a robust communication platform. The Aprisa XE is also offered as a cost effective remedy for popular discontinued products.”

Greater profit and growth

Our solutions offer customers superior reliability and flexibility, as well as the ability to control and manage their critical assets,” says Ian Troughton, 4RF CEO. “The result is a previously unimagined ability for our customers to keep up with increased network demands and improved security protection leading to greater profit and growth.”

“My advice to utilities is that they acquire more real time visibility and control over their networks and communications will be the key enabler of this. There are many products out there and I don’t think one size can fit all. The idea is to find complementary products that together meet all of the utility’s requirements.”

He adds that utilities should have a network management software package that can see all the end devices and all the communication elements and, because of standardization, this is now possible with modern products like the Aprisa SR+. Only then will utilities achieve their objectives, he says.