Utilities’ Quest for Spectrum: All Roads Lead to Public-Safety LTE?

US utilities have yet to solve the daunting problem of cyber spectrum – an issue which experts claim is stalling smart grid deployments and inhibiting investment in this sector.
Published: Sat 06 Oct 2012

What happened

According to a recent report by Pike Research, the uncertainty on how new IT systems should be incorporated into network operations have slowed the advance of smart grid technologies. And as smart grid deployments grow and existing applications are made smarter, the problem is likely to grow.

In order for the smart grid to deliver on its full value proposition, utilities have to find reliable, safe and uninterrupted bandwidth space enormous loads of data.

In light of this, the US Utilities Telecom Council (UTC) argues that the 700 MHz broadband spectrum allocated for a new nationwide public-safety LTE network is the perfect match for utilities. UTC contends utilities are as much ‘first responders’ as fire personnel or law enforcement and the interoperability of the LTE network is exactly what they need.

Of course, not everyone agrees. Tammy Parker at Fierce Energy tells that those with misgivings offered valid reasons:

  • The public safety network must be sufficiently built out.
  • Address the communications needs of law enforcement, fire services and other emergency services workers, before any talks begin.
  • Solve and agree on partnerships between UTC and the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO).


Well ready or not, “The spectrum crunch is coming,” writes Jesse Berst at Smart Grid News.

As things stand, the need to support smart meters has already brought major change in the utility IT landscape. Smart meters are no longer just simply monitoring devices; they have evolved into a dynamic, intelligent network that supports bidirectional communications between utilities and customers.

As for smart grid IT, Pike Research defines it as “NOT a set of well-defined application or infrastructure components; it is a rapidly evolving area of innovation and experimentation.” As with smart meters, many other new applications are likely to have on impact on smart grid IT. Here is a list of applications:

  • Advanced metering infrastructure (AMI)
  • Meter data management (MDM)
  • The upgraded billing and customer information systems (CIS)
  • Distribution management systems (DMS
  • Merging of enterprise IT and OT to improve operational efficiencies
  • Electric vehicle (EV) charging systems
  • Demand-side management applications
  • Distributed generation (DG) management

Global outlook

More and more, utilities are finding that the need to define and deploy new IT systems in support of the smart grid is driving collaboration between Information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT) – this according to ‘Smart Grid IT Systems’ by Pike Research.

A summary of the research conclusions:

  • Total smart grid software and related IT services market reaches US$4.3b by end 2012 and grow to over US$8.6b by 2017.
  • North America is leading the initial market in many smart grid IT innovations.
  • Over the next 5 years, the European and Asia Pacific smart grid IT markets will grow substantially.

Proprietary applications and IT systems

Advanced energy blogger, Dave Karpinsky, explains the proprietary nature of utilities' home networking systems and smart meters adds complexity and additional cost, hence consumers fail to recognize their value.

“The search for innovative new ways to connect energy users to the smart grid is ongoing,” he adds. He points to an example of  a company that taps into the existing at-home broadband and use web-based analytics rather than having to rely so much on proprietary, 'closed' systems. The blogger argues “the smart grid will get only smarter and become more ubiquitous – increasingly relying on internet -based systems that provide a customized, highly scalable gateway to the power grid.”

Radio management on secondary channels

The CEO of Parseous Systems, Brian Andrew says just about every utility he speaks with is concerned out spectrum availability and achieving higher bandwidth throughputs. Andrew spoke to Berst at SGN about how the “Aggi “radio may relief some of the current spectrum pinch.  

How it works:

  • There are 240 12.5 kHz channels in the 217-220 MHz range for the radio to select from.
  • If you own spectrum, you can set your channels as priority channels to be used by the radio and increase bandwidth throughput capacity by adding in channels on a secondary basis.
  • Aggi aggregates up to 40 non-contiguous channels (6.25 kHz wide) to dynamically deliver up to 200 Kbps throughput in an on-demand basis.
  • Dynamically stops and automatically switch channels if another licensed user with priority is sensed to avoid any service interruption.


FierceSmartGrid.com: Utilities angling to use public safety LTE network

CranesCleveland.com: Making the 'smart grid' smarter, broadband and the Internet

SmartGridNews.com: The looming spectrum crunch (and one possible solution

SmartGridNews.com: Can free spectrum deliver the ultimate wireless network?

SmartGridObserver.com: Global smart grid IT market to reach $ 8.6 billion by 2017