450 MHz Private LTE for Utilities

Utility week earlier reported that Energie AG Oberösterreich supplies more than 450,000 customers in Austria with electricity, gas, heat, and water, as well as waste disposal and ICT services.

Energie now relies on a private network comprised of 8,000 Westermo devices for its communications, spread across the country. Devices have been installed in substations in a wide range of settings adjacent to mountains and lakes, and in other terrains. Applications vary from SCADA to smart meter aggregation. Energie is also using the technology to control distributed energy resources such as solar and wind farms.

Devices in the field are now being converted for a complete migration to LTE from older generation CDMA technology. The network comprises more than 60 base stations as well as the Westermo routers. The private 450 MHz network has a far lower number of base stations than a standard mobile phone LTE (4G) network and is much more effective over long distances. Westermo has spent a year fine-tuning the network with the radio module and base station vendors to cope with the demands of rural and mountainous areas, and constraints on connectivity and data rates.

Westermo designs and manufactures data communications products for mission-critical systems in physically demanding environments. The products are used both in social infrastructure, such as transport, water and energy supplies, as well as in process industries, such as mining and petrochemical. Quoting from their solutions page:

Typically, the 450Mhz or 410Mhz spectrums are made available for private LTE.  One characteristic of this spectrum is the benefit of better penetration and reach compared to the higher frequencies found in commercial LTE networks. Using LTE bands that are not normally accessible to the public ensures that sensitive information is kept separate from the public domain and provides an additional level of defence that will defeat all but the most determined cyber attackers.

The Activator zero-touch platform has been used to deploy large-scale utility networks for customers operating private LTE networks, in many instances scaling in excess of 10,000 sites.

Westermo customers are implementing private LTE for connectivity and control of applications including:

  • Smart grid
  • Distribution automation
  • Smart metering aggregation
  • SCADA 

The Merlin series includes features designed to meet the proven needs of utilities:

  • TPM for security
  • Integrated RTU/SCADA protocols that reduce need for external RTUs and simplify large deployments
  • High galvanic isolation for longer life in electrically hostile environments
  • Support for TLS and IPsec encryption – TLS has been shown in a research study funded by the University of Strathclyde Power Networks Demonstration Centre to consume less bandwidth; useful where bandwidth conservation is a priority.

Here is a slightly old video explaining their solution: