People in many countries take reliable electricity service for granted. That's because over the years large, mature, highly connected electric grids have been built out. They consist of central power stations that deliver power to major load centers via high capacity power lines. These power lines are branched and divided to provide power to smaller industrial and domestic users over the entire supply area.

In the past, electric grid systems operated perfectly well with one-way communication from the central stations out to the ultimate users. In the last two decades though, the addition of renewable and stored sources of power made bidirectional communications a necessity.

Furthermore the drive for efficiency and resiliency has led to a demand for smart grid applications such as grid visualization, real-time load monitoring, asset monitoring, smart metering and consumer load control.

Providing two-way communications over a vast grid is a daunting challenge. Fortunately there is a straightforward and cost effective solution. Public cellular networks along with the right network design and routing equipment can be combined to deliver reliable, high data rate solutions.

Let's examine how to develop industrial wireless networks for today's smart grid applications.


Smart grids need reliable two-way communications to incorporate renewable energy sources and maximize efficiently and resiliency.

Requirements for Communication Networks for Smart Grid Data Applications

Some of the communication requirements for the modern grid include:

  • Bandwidth: Each device needs stable bandwidth to allow for services planning. In addition the bandwidth needs to be the same for all devices.
  • Latency: Time delays in communication need to be bounded and known in advance.
  • Security: The network needs ways to prevent and monitor unauthorized access, misuse, modification or denial of access to both data and physical assets.
  • Reliability: Each component needs to operate properly at a very high level of service reliability.

What network backbone can meet these conditions over vast geographic areas? Public cellular networks are the logical choice.

The Advantages of Public Cellular Networks for Smart Grid Communications

In many countries public telecom utilities operate robust cellular networks that connect to the Internet. Data rates and range have been increasing and now provide the high speeds and geographic coverage needed to reach remote utility facilities.

Public cellular networks are now used to transfer data securely and reliably for connectivity to energy generation locations, secondary transformer centers, utility substations and office locations.
4G cellular technology is ideal because its data rates address primary communication requirements and leverage a common platform for smart grid and other applications. Other uses could include mobile workforce connectivity (including VoIP) and CCTV camera security backhaul.

The advantages of using public wireless communication networks for smart grid deployments include:

  • Access: Gain access to information, anytime, anywhere
  • Mobility: Mobile workforce connected to company intranet or to systems with no cables
  • Redundancy: Countrywide networks via different mobile operators allow redundancy and backup systems
  • Cost effective network deployment: No fixed infrastructure deployment needed – uses existing equipment and systems
  • Future-proof solution: Use of standard technology ensures cross-vendor compatibility and the ongoing availability of products

Public cellular networks provide the very large WLAN transmission paths needed for connecting High Voltage substations to a central office.

Choosing the Right Industrial Wireless Solution

To choose the right industrial wireless solution for your smart grid, consider requirements for these three main components: wireless communication network(s), network design and industrial Ethernet routers.

1. Industrial Wireless Communication Network

What key characteristics are you looking for? What cellular or Wi-Fi technologies available in your area have these characteristics? Would using a public network enhance or compromise security and redundancy? Are there any deployment or interference issues? Are there scalability issues?

2. Network Design

Network design plays a large part in determining scalability, reliability, security and redundancy. Is the industrial Ethernet communication network of your smart grid designed according to best practices? To find out, check out our white papers Substation  Communication: Legacy to IEC 61850 and A Construction Kit  for Secure Wireless Network Design .

New call-to-action3. Industrial Ethernet Routers

Consider your requirements in these areas:

  • Form factor: compact size or DIN rail-mounted
  • Integrated firewall
  • Two SIMS for network redundancy
  • IEC 61850 certified
  • Number of serial ports
  • Speed and number of Ethernet ports
  • Built-in GPS for geospatial localization
  • Harsh environment ratings for conditions such as EMI (Electromagnetic interference), large temperature variations, shocks, vibrations, dust, moisture

A number of effective cellular communication solutions are described in the white paper available for download at the end of this article.

Designing Industrial Wireless Communication Systems for Smart Grids

Smart grid communication networks are becoming ever more sophisticated. In addition data rates are increasing to support new grid applications, such as distribution automation devices, metering infrastructure, security and mobile devices.

Wireless technologies are the ideal solution for ensuring the reliability of these communication networks and using public cellular networks is a cost effective option. However, be sure to carefully assess the communication network, network design and industrial Ethernet router options available to you.

Do you have experience using a telecom's public cellular network for smart grid communications? What is your experience with it? I look forward to hearing from you.

This article was created by Germán Fernández, Belden’s vertical marketing manager for the PT&D industry.  More info on Germán is available at the end of this article.

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