Utilities need secure, fast, flexible and adaptable connectivity solutions
Electric utilities face significant communications challenges that span data, voice and machine to machine. It’s not unusual for utilities to manage dozens of different legacy wireless protocols that run over dozens of different networks. Managing them all is cumbersome and expensive, but even worse, most of these protocols are proprietary and designed for a single use case. As a result, most of these communications technologies are not interoperable, which limits a utility’s choice of hardware and stifles growth as the company expands.
Truthfully, these communications challenges are in some ways very similar to the challenges that the railroad faced in the mid-19th century, even though the technology in question was much simpler. Back then, the industry adopted a standard width or gauge for tracks so that train cars could easily pass from one to another. Similarly, the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) standard was created to provide a common technological schema for interoperability and security in wireless communications.
3GPP was established in 1998 as an engineering organization that develops technical specifications for cellular networks. Today, 3GPP has 7.1 billion subscriptions worldwide, forming the basis of mobile broadband. Its ongoing development is fueled by the evolving 3G, 4G LTE and 5G standards. All told, 3GPP unites seven telecommunications standards development organizations, which provides their members with a stable environment to provide the reports and specifications that define wireless technologies.
The benefits of a tested, global communications standard
The benefits to utilities employing 3GPP wireless communications technologies are many. For starters, because 3GPP is so widespread and widely adopted, technologies such as LTE can connect to essentially any device. As a result, utilities can go from managing dozens of different wireless protocols and networks to managing a single LTE platform. This significantly reduces operating costs while increasing flexibility and agility. Utilities can deploy new technologies without worrying about having to deploy communications infrastructure, and they’ll know that they can connect it to existing infrastructure via LTE.
Additionally, utilities can sleep easy knowing that 3GPP is a secure standard that’s been tested, proven and battle hardened over three decades in the field with hundreds of network operators and billions of end-users. Security is built into the 3GPP standard, so utilities have encryption out of the gate, and the authentication techniques between the SIM card and the HSS (home subscriber server) are extremely mature and robust.
Of course, 3GPP is useful for more than just connecting devices for utilities. It’s also ideal for connecting people. By migrating from legacy worker communication infrastructure, such as Land Mobile Radio (LMR) and iDEN, to 3GPP technologies, utilities can ensure reliable, real-time voice and video communications with very high quality, including mission-critical push-to-x solutions. These kinds of communications are particularly important for field technicians when they need to collaborate with expert assistance, because the video capabilities enable them to show support personnel exactly what they’re facing on-site.
Quality of service is another big advantage of 3GPP for use cases that go well beyond person-to-person communications. In heavily loaded networks, for instance, LTE enables utilities to use more of the available bandwidth without running into problems with congestion, and they can give critical devices higher priority with guaranteed bit rates to ensure they don’t lose connectivity.
Finally, 3GPP is a standard that empowers innovation. 3GPP is a ubiquitous standard that’s being applied to thousands of new and innovative use cases around the world. Plus, as organizations innovate, these innovations often become incorporated into the standard, which can lead to advancements in new iterations of existing technologies.
3GPP enables utilities to standardize on a single, secure wireless network to connect both devices and people with the speed, performance and reliability that the energy industry demands. It provides enormous flexibility to choose whatever hardware best suits the utility’s needs, and it’s a platform that empowers future innovation and growth. With private LTE network solutions, utilities can cut costs, gain agility and strengthen security all at the same time.
Learn more about the importance of 3GPP by reading our Connected Utilities report and learn on how cellular connectivity is digitally transforming utility capabilities. Dive into ten different use cases and explore how cellular connectivity advanced progress for utility companies.
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