The standard is now being leveraged to support applications at the grid edge including communication with distributed energy resources (DER) including solar, wind and local storage. DER applications are becoming increasingly important in supplying electricity.
IEEE 802.16s Standard and Its Use for Distributed Energy Resources
Stewart Kantor | Full Spectrum
What is the IEEE 802.16s standard and why is it important?
IEEE 802.16s is a new worldwide wireless standard designed to meet the burgeoning need for smart grid and other industrial data communications. Mission critical entities use the standard to create private, highly secure, broadband wide area wireless networks using licensed VHF and UHF frequencies. The standard supports a variety of utility applications including substation automation, distribution automation and now distributed energy resource management including intelligent solar inverters. Networks based on 802.16s are highly secure, application agnostic (Layer 2), low latency wireless networks with the ability to create a variety of service qualities to prioritize different kinds of data traffic at the device and application layer.
The standard describes a method of efficiently transmitting data over licensed VHF and UHF frequencies in a variety of channel sizes ranging from 100 kHz to 2 MHz. The combination of licensed frequency and channel size is ideal for mission critical private data networks that need to support the monitoring and control of thousands of remote industrial devices that are dispersed over wide geographies. While initially developed for the electric utility industry, a variety of mission-critical sectors domestically and internationally are now embracing the standard including the oil & gas industry, the security and defense markets, water and wastewater utilities and the transportation industry including railroad operators. Networks leveraging 802.16s are now being referred to more generically as Industrial Internet Networks or Industrial IoT networks.
The flexibility of the standard allows network operators to obtain unused or underutilized radio spectrum without having to compete with the major cellular operators. Furthermore, the standard has a number of features designed to optimize the use of licensed spectrum in order to get the maximum amount of data through narrower channel sizes. This includes using Time Division Duplexing (TDD) which eliminates the need to dedicate a frequency to uplink and downlink and flexible spectrum reuse methods.
More generally, standards are important to help drive the necessary scale for rapid worldwide deployment of innovative, cost-effective, and interoperable technologies. WiFi, Ethernet and LTE (3GPP) are examples of standards that fueled rapid worldwide adoption of consumer and enterprise networks.
What inspired the development of the new IEEE 802.16s standard? What initial concerns was the industry facing?
The development of the standard was driven by the specific needs of mission critical industrial and governmental customers including electric, gas and water utilities. The needs of these entities were unmet by commercial wireless service providers and the two most well-known wireless standards, LTE and WiFi. Both LTE and WiFi are burdened with overhead to support consumer applications and WiFi was designed for very short-range connectivity (e.g. consumer and business hot spots). These limitations, among others, led the utility industry to advocate for its own standard.
Utility assets are typically dispersed over very large geographic areas in difficult to reach or remote locations often without existing wired and wireless connectivity. Furthermore, given the critical nature of their services, utilities need to be independent of the public network providers which are susceptible to security breaches, prolonged outages and service quality problems, especially during manmade and natural disasters. Other service quality concerns include competition for network capacity with consumer-based applications including streaming video and inadequate upstream data throughput.
What role did Full Spectrum play in the creation, development, and publication of the standard?
Full Spectrum participated during the entire standardization process along with key utility industry leaders including the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), the Utilities Technology Council (UTC), and a number of leading US utility companies. The core concept for the standard evolved from Full Spectrum’s proprietary FullMAX technology which was developed from the ground up specifically to meet the wireless data communications needs of mission critical industries. FullMAX’s adoption by several key utility customers and extensive testing by others including EPRI gave industry leaders the confidence that FullMAX technology was the ideal starting place for a new industrial wireless standard. We decided to contribute portions of our technology to the standardization process in order to jump start the adoption process with the overall goal of increasing the market size, driving to lower costs and furthering innovation and worldwide development for all industrial customers.
Why was your technology selected for use with the standard?
We developed our technology after soliciting the input of several major US utilities. These utilities had been relying upon a hodgepodge of different technologies including wired and wireless technology from service providers. Their networks were becoming increasingly difficult to manage and lacked the necessary security and capacity to meet their future data needs.
We sought their wish-list of requirements which included the need for extreme wide area network data coverage using minimal tower infrastructure. A jumping off point was their existing communications tower infrastructure supporting their push-to-talk land mobile radio (LMR) systems. These mobile voice systems were designed to cover 1,200 to 2,800 square miles from a single tower site. Ideally, the utilities wanted to leverage the exact same tower infrastructure but instead get broadband data coverage to communicate with their distributed assets. This meant developing a technology that could use VHF and UHF frequencies with similar long-range propagation characteristics as land mobile radio systems.
Furthermore, the technology needed to be flexible enough to handle a variety of channel sizes in order to ensure access to licensed bands and to not have to compete for spectrum with the commercial network service providers. Hence, this required the use of narrower channels that could be optimized for higher throughput using software. It was determined that channel sizes between 100 kHz and 2 MHz could meet these requirements provided they implemented other key features like time division duplexing with configurable upstream and downstream ratios. All of these requirements flowed into the technology and ultimately into the standard.
How will this new standard and your technology help to better incorporate distributed energy resources into the grid?
IEEE 802.16s standard was initially developed to provide the electric utility industry with a highly reliable wireless data standard for substation and distribution automation. However, the standard is now being leveraged to support applications at the grid edge including communication with distributed energy resources (DER) including solar, wind and local storage. DER applications are becoming increasingly important in supplying electricity. Utilities need real time connectivity to these assets in order to balance supply and demand in real time.
How is security handled in the technology?
There a variety of levels of security both physical and software enabled. Within the standard itself, there is support for over the air encryption and authentication of all network devices. Furthermore, utilities are able to operate these networks over wide areas with a physical air gap between the 802.16s private network and the corporate and public networks. Also, these networks operate in their own dedicated licensed spectrum and each utility has a customized configuration that reflects their specific data needs.
Will the technology be used for any other applications in the future?
While initially developed for the electric utility industry, a variety of other mission-critical entities are embracing the standard including the water and wastewater utilities, oil & gas companies, defense and homeland security entities and the transportation industry.
About Stewart Kantor
Stewart Kantor is the CEO and a co-founder of Full Spectrum Inc., a wireless telecommunications company that designs, develops and manufactures private broadband wireless internet technology and provides network services for mission-critical industries. He has more than 20 years of experience in the wireless industry including senior-level positions in marketing, finance and product development at AT&T Wireless, BellSouth International and Nokia Siemens Networks. Since 2004, Mr. Kantor has focused exclusively on the development of private wireless data network technology and services for mission-critical industries, including electric utilities, oil & gas, defense and transportation.
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