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Ofcom CFI: Our view on the potential spectrum bands to support utilities sector transformation

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In our previous blog, Is wireless technology becoming critical to the transformation of the energy sector? – Real Wireless (real-wireless.com), we identified the changing communication needs for energy system transformation and supported DSIT’s Wireless Infrastructure Strategy suggestions regarding private networks in the energy sector.

It is clear from the latest Call for Input (CFI) that Ofcom understands that driving the necessary transformation in the utilities sector will require access to dedicated spectrum.

The recent CFI is therefore seeking views on five bands that might be suitable for future operational communications needs of the utilities sector, the proposed bands are: 400 MHz, 450 MHz, 700 MHz, 800/900 MHz, and 1900 MHz.

Real Wireless responded to the CFI (Call for Input: Potential spectrum bands to support utilities sector transformation – Ofcom) based on our experience and expertise in spectrum related matters, system dimensioning and co-existence analysis.

We welcome the consideration given to private networks to meet requirements for utilities operational communication networks. Based on our experience in the communications and utilities sector, together with our deep knowledge of private networks, we provided our views to the specific questions in the consultation document.

Our response was also underpinned by a deep understanding of policy and regulation related to spectrum management, our experience in carrying out co-existence analysis and our network modelling and system dimensioning capabilities.

Below is a summary of our responses to the CFI questions – we chose not to answer all of the questions.

Question 1: Have we correctly identified the key changes in the utilities sector that could lead addition spectrum requirement?

Real Wireless response: The CFI document comprehensively identifies the fundamental changes and future needs within the utility sector, particularly in the electricity sector, driven by a net zero emission target of 2050. These changes and the growing complexity of utility systems, combined with the digitalisation of these systems, leads to increasing reliance on communication systems and a corresponding increase in spectrum requirements. The enhanced security, reliability and resilience of critical national infrastructure (such as required by utilities) are also important factors in the requirement for dedicated spectrum. We also recognise that additional spectrum could facilitate innovation and future-proofing of energy systems.

Question 2: What alternative communication solutions might play a role in meeting the future operational communication needs of the utilities sector, alongside or instead of additional spectrum for a private network?

Real Wireless response: Alternative communication solutions such as Public Mobile Networks (including network slicing and Mobile Virtual Network Operator based solutions), Fibre Connectivity, Satellite Communications, Hybrid Networks, Mesh Networks and Shared Network Private Networks need to be considered based on specific operational scenarios underpinned by use cases, capacity, coverage, security, resilience and reliability requirements. A comprehensive cost benefit analysis of the shortlisted options, including any optimism bias is required in order to decide the optimum solution.

Question 4: Do you have any comments on three bandwidths we have considered that might be necessary to support a private network for utilities?

Real Wireless response: Our analysis aligns with industry recommendations that a minimum bandwidth of 2×3 MHz is required for the utility sector. Increased bandwidth in private networks will also future proof the communication system as requirements evolve.

Question 5: Do you have any comments on our approach to examining each potential candidate spectrum band, including the factors relevant to assessing suitability, and the capacity and coverage analysis provided in annexes 7 and 8?

Real Wireless response: We noted that detailed information supporting the assumptions made for Environmental Noise in Table A8.1 (CFI document) for coverage modelling of the wireless communication system deployed at the substation was not included. We suggested conducting a detailed study, including real-time measurements, to ascertain the impact of Environmental Noise on the proposed frequency bands.

Question 9: Do you have comments on our overview of the 700MHz band in GB and NI? Please consider the specific factors we have discussed in your response?

Real Wireless response: Real Wireless agreed with Ofcom’s assessment of the 700MHz band for current use and future spectrum demand in GB and NI. 700MHz spectrum could be commercially attractive from a deployment cost and operational efficiencies perspective.

We suggested a further detailed study of coverage, capacity and costs for use of this band by the utility sector.

Real Wireless has undertaken work for regulators, government departments and both vendors and network operators of utility communication networks. We believe that the private networks option for utility networks requires further detailed examination by various parts of the eco system to ensure the development of a long term strategy and road map that delivers benefits for all.