Itron Inspire

Private LTE Today & Tomorrow The Right Technology at the Right Time

Smart grid

Guest blog contributed by Ryan Gerbrandt, Chief Operating Officer, Anterix

Creating a more resilient grid requires data driven intelligence in a more secure, accessible and interoperable landscape. This was a common theme throughout Itron Inspire, Itron’s customer focused event that we were proud to participate in as a gold sponsor. The underpinnings of this ever-expanding, ubiquitously connected ecosystem of devices, sensors and more is a solid communications network. This network will support diverse capabilities, from distributed intelligence to outcome-based solutions and analytics.

As a network operator, engineering technologist with a focus on utilities, I have had the opportunity to understand and embrace the critical importance of the emerging capabilities of connectivity, data and control, all of which are at the heart of grid modernization. Today, we operate at the intersection of the “mega sectors” of telecom and utilities, and this offers us the opportunity to unify the immense capabilities of both for the betterment of the grid.

The last time I saw this type of industry-wide opportunity was at a fast-growing Silicon Valley IIoT start-up, Trilliant Networks, where we were developing disruptive innovations and emerging communications technologies, and applying them to the modern energy challenges. That experience revolved around the adoption of smart meters which moved into the early stages of the smart grid. That technology, and the potential for connected devices and solutions, blossomed. As an extension of that work, today we know that every asset in the modern grid is inherently digitized. These sensors or control points are all assets that can be connected to share data. But all of this is only possible with a robust and secure broadband communications network.

Utilities understand this. They've been building and using private networks for a long time, so there's a history and a legacy that underpins the future path of private networks in general. What utilities get with a private LTE (PLTE) broadband network is greater performance AND greater control. Utilities depend on these networks, and they need to be reliable. They need visibility into what's happening in the transmission and distribution grid so they can better understand, manage and build upon the system's capabilities. They also need visibility so they can be proactive in preventing outages and responding quickly and precisely to dispatch crews to bring the system back online when they do happen.

With a PLTE broadband network, utilities also have full control over the design of their network and are able to architect not only the basic capabilities of coverage and Radio Frequency design, but also the resiliency, reliability and cyber security that are necessary as part of the electric grid. They can really adapt it to their design requirements that are quite specific and unique to supporting their services.

And, when you think of the grid five years from now, you must factor in the ability to support distributed renewables, microgrids and the electrification of transportation with EVs. That is a very different environment, so the private communications network of the future must be more interactive to support a multi-directional energy flow. The way to manage that future grid and all these distributed and connected devices is going to be rooted in data, visibility, real-time control and being able to monitor and understand what's going on. Those capabilities highlight the point of how critical security is in both the cyber and the physical realms. PLTE empowers utilities to build robust security models right within the technology stack itself.

We are at a point in time where the right technology is in front of us at exactly the right time. By leveraging foundational PLTE broadband networks, utilities can build the communications platform they need to improve visibility onto the grid, improve efficiencies, gain greater control, strengthen security and create a stronger brighter future.

If you missed Itron Inspire, you can still register to watch all sessions on-demand through Nov. 19, 2021, including my conversation with former Department of Energy CTO Peter Tseronis about the utility sector’s movement toward the adoption of private LTE.