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Spectrum simplified

What utilities need to know about spectrum

How do utilities decide which spectrum to use?

As they undergo digital transformation, utilities are investing in new technologies to modernize the grid and improve the existing grid’s security, reliability and resiliency. Access to a wireless network with superior coverage and adequate capacity is central to utilities’ security, reliability and independence needs. And spectrum is a fundamental building block. Utilities are likely new to the intricacies of spectrum. Our new case study explains why spectrum is important to the modernized grid and what considerations you must make when choosing spectrum for a utility’s specific needs.

Smart grids get smart about spectrum

Power lines

Shared public consumer networks, subject to load-dependent reliability, don’t provide the security, reliability and independence required for providers of mission-critical services like utilities. That’s why utilities are adopting 3GPP technologies such as Private LTE (PLTE) as a primary communications technology for reliable and secure wireless networks.

Radio spectrum sets the parameters for a new, broad ecosystem of interconnected networks and devices based on PLTE that enables the application of telecommunications networks to new industries and novel use cases, including utilities.

“Like any wireless network, utility ICT systems need radio-frequency spectrum to function, and the reliability of the wireless communications may be affected by radio-frequency interference. Therefore, access to adequate and interference-free spectrum is a requirement if these networks are to work as intended.”


— Utilities Technology Council™ FCC filing, 2018


How utilities use wireless networks

Wireless spectrum can be leveraged by utilities to facilitate the communication and coordination of many of their operations in a number of use cases including:

  • Smart grid
  • Distribution automation
  • Advanced metering
  • Reduction of opex
  • Workforce connectivity


Choosing your flavor of spectrum

Spectrum can be categorized into three main categories:

  • Low-band (450 MHz–1 GHz)
  • Mid-band (1 GHz–6 GHz)
  • High-band (24 GHz–71 GHz)

All three bands are applicable to utilities and can benefit the industry when setting up wireless infrastructure. Today, both low-band and mid-band are available to the industry . A utility’s choice of spectrum for the wireless networks would be based on their use cases.

Learn more about the three spectrum bands

MINI-LINK 6371 and Radio 6626
Spectrum case study chart

Licensed or unlicensed

How critical is security and reliability to your use case? That will help the utility determine whether it needs licensed, unlicensed or shared spectrum.

Which bands are licensed, unlicensed and shared and what are the differences between them? Here’s what you need to know.

How much spectrum do you need? Factors to consider.

As with any wireless planning or deployment activity, a primary question is: How much spectrum is required? Two major aspects have to be considered to answer this question: Coverage and capacity.

Low-band spectrum provides increased coverage at the expense of speed/capacity.

Mid-band spectrum provides increased capacity due to larger channel bandwidths but has reduced coverage due to its propagation characteristics.

Low-band offers the most coverage but the least capacity.

The amount of spectrum needed is directly correlated with the total volume of traffic to be carried by a single wireless site.

Power grid

How do utilities decide which spectrum to use?

To select the optimal band for your application, consider the capabilities of the spectrum and the capabilities you require for your use case. For instance, do you need wide coverage or focused capacity? Mission-critical or non-mission-critical security? This chart sums up the key factors to consider.

Spectrum Best suited for: For applications requiring: Amount of spectrum
Low-band Smart grid sensor applications Wide coverage, infrequent communication, and lower traffic volumes 3+3 MHz / 5+5 MHz
Mid-band Real-time communication traffic
Higher volume video surveillance
Drone traffic
Focused capacity to supplement the coverage of low-band spectrum. Non-mission-critical traffic. 10 MHz or higher, or shared spectrum such as CBRS
High-Band Low-latency applications deployed in a specified footprint Use cases that need a latency of <10 ms with focused coverage 100 MHz or more of mmWave spectrum
Radio system

Calculating ROI: Why “MHz per pop” isn’t a good currency

When planning your wireless communication infrastructure, cost is a key component that can either hinder or promote the use for utilities, since fees can be a significant expense for utilities. Utilities might ordinarily use MHz per pop to calculate ROI. Higher population densities for a given region means faster ROI, leading to a higher MHz/pop measure. This model, however, does not map to spectrum leased or sold to utilities.

See why MHz per pop isn’t a good currency. And discover a better measure of the scope of device coverage in a geography.

Why do I have to pay for spectrum in a state when I only need three sites?

Spectrum is sold in economic areas today that may vary in size, based on auction strategy for the specific licensed spectrum. Allowing for flexibility in sub-leasing spectrum can enable quicker adoption of spectrum by smaller utilities and accelerate wireless grid modernization.

Learn why

How to make the most of your spectrum

Spectrum occupies the lion’s share of a utility’s investment in wireless grid modernization. That’s why it’s important for decision makers at utilities to have a broad understanding of spectrum.

Written by top Ericsson experts in grid modernization and 5G solutions for mission-critical networks at utility companies, this case study gives you the building blocks for making an informed decision about your spectrum needs.

Download the case study
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