Brett Kilbourne, VP of Government & Industry Affairs and Deputy General Counsel, Utilities Telecom Council

Brett Kilbourne, VP of Government & Industry Affairs and Deputy General Counsel, Utilities Telecom Council

Brett Kilbourne, VP of Government & Industry Affairs and Deputy General Counsel, Utilities Telecom Council is taking part in a panel discussion on “Perspectives on the Urban/Rural Issues for FirstNet” on Day Two of the LTE North America conference, taking place on the 21st-22nd November 2013, in Dallas, Texas, USA. Ahead of the show we talk to him about how LTE use public for safety and utilities overlap.

What is the opportunity that public safety LTE provides for utilities companies?

Utilities need access to broadband spectrum to support their increasing communications needs for smart grid and other enhanced applications. They currently have extensive land mobile communications systems, but these are mostly narrowband.  They also have extensive microwave, but these are for point-to-point communications and don’t generally provide wide area coverage and mobile communications. The opportunity afforded by public safety is to share the 700MHz PSBN to support the increased communications needs of utilities, and to promote interoperability and emergency response with public safety during emergencies.

The LTE North America conference is taking place on the 21st-22nd November 2013, in Dallas, Texas, USA. Click here NOW to download a brochure for the event.

What are the similarities and differences of the needs of the utilities companies when it comes to public safety?

Utilities have similar communications needs as public safety. They both need highly reliable communications, particularly during emergencies. That is why utilities own, maintain and operate their own private internal communications networks, and why they harden these networks with extended and uninterrupted back-up power, as well as diverse routing and redundant paths to ensure communications reliability and resiliency even during storms like Hurricane Sandy. There are few differences between utility and public safety systems, aside from some handset applications, which shouldn’t impair the ability of utilities to share the 700MHz PSBN with public safety.

What would partnering with utilities companies bring to the public safety LTE eco-system?

Utilities represent a potentially large number of end use devices and users on the network. That could mean lower equipment costs for public safety to the extent utilities share the network and there are resulting economies of scale associated from the increased amount of equipment that would be produced to support utility operations on the network. That ties back to the sustainability of the network, by reducing the operational costs of the network.

Utilities also have extensive infrastructure that could be leveraged for the construction of the network, thereby reducing the upfront capital costs. This infrastructure includes poles, towers, and rights-of-way that can promote the deployment of the network.  It also includes communications facilities such as fibre, microwave and other communications technologies. As noted earlier, these communications facilities are highly reliable and secure, which could also promote the public safety eco-system.

Is it a given that utilities will use LTE in the future or are alternatives such a TETRA still in the frame?

Utilities will use a variety of technologies. LTE is proving to be a widely-adopted standard that is likely to lead the development of communications systems into the future. As a result, utilities are likely to use LTE to leverage the worldwide economies of scale that will likely follow it.

Are there still limitations with LTE technology that will need to be overcome in terms of providing mission-critical 4G comms for utilities?

There are some limitations with LTE. It doesn’t currently support mission critical push-to-talk voice applications. It also won’t work on channels that are smaller than 1.4 MHz in bandwidth. Those are the two key limiting factors for utility adoption of LTE, but they are not insurmountable at all.

What do you feel is the optimal governance structure for public safety network rollout? Is local, regional, state or national level best?

Utilities are open to any governance structure in which their interests are fairly represented and communications is ensured. There are strengths and weaknesses to national, state or local and tribal governance structures. Utilities are currently engaging with state and local authorities to develop sharing arrangements, but they are also engaging with FirstNet at a national level as it develops its RFP for the construction, maintenance and operation of the PSBN going forward.

What are your predictions for LTE-based critical comms network rollouts over the next few years?

LTE is certainly promising in regards to spectrum efficiency and communications performance criteria such as low latency, which are important for utilities and other mission critical communications users, such as public safety. We are optimistic about its future and are eager to see how this technology can be used to cost effectively meet utilities’ communications needs.

The LTE North America conference is taking place on the 21st-22nd November 2013, in Dallas, Texas, USA. Click here NOW to download a brochure for the event.

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