Alliance Works for Electric Co-op Transitions to pLTE

Randy Sukow


Utility Worker

Earlier this month, NRTC joined the Utility Broadband Alliance (UBBA), a trade association with a mission to help electric, gas and water utilities adopt private Long-Term Evolution (pLTE) wireless networks. The alliance brings together utilities, equipment vendors, regulators and other stakeholders.

“Electric utilities are adopting private LTE to enable smart-grid functions such as for metering, load management, power quality or distributed energy resources. Connecting downline devices while consolidating the number of disparate networks they are currently managing decreases costs while increasing service levels,” said Joe Walsh, NRTC’s VP, smart grid advisory and networks.  “NRTC is joining UBBA to help scale pLTE for co-ops by working with industry players and translating their experience and insights to specific co-op needs.”

NRTC will gather information through UBBA to help co-ops identify the value of private LTE and overcome deployment challenges. Much of this work will be through NRTC participation in UBBA’s first four working groups covering pLTE business issues; private network use cases, and cybersecurity/technology, as well as a working group for utilities only. Walsh said he expects additional working groups to form in the future.

Along with Walsh, other NRTC staffers will participate in early UBBA activities, including Michael Brown, NRTC Broadband Solutions’ recently hired VP of engineering; Christopher Ortega, senior director, network access, and John Vetter, director of solution architecture.

“One of the things that we will benefit from is that [UBBA is] establishing, with utility partners, a set of labs where utilities can come in and test different equipment and hopefully also share the results of lab tests. We hope to leverage that on behalf of our members to help implement and manage pLTE networks,” Walsh said.

NRTC will be rural cooperatives’ way to access UBBA labs and research. “There are a lot of big investor-owned utilities [IOUs] that are in UBBA. NRTC is in there making sure the co-op viewpoint is heard by the industry,” he said.

NRTC has made providing pLTE solutions available to its members a top priority for 2021. Walsh moderated an NRECA TechAdvantage session in February looking at the ways cooperatives could improve their operations by combining existing AMI, SCADA, workforce management and other wireless functions into a single private network. The session covered the use cases for adopting pLTE as well as steps to overcome implementation challenges.

UBBA formed in February 2019 under the leadership of Anterix (formerly pdvWireless), a vendor specializing in 900 MHz equipment for pLTE networks, and Southern Linc, an Atlanta-based regional LTE carrier owned by an IOU. NRTC joins as the group readies for more activities and an expanded membership with utilities taking a greater role. Last month, the group formally incorporated in the state of Delaware.

As UBBA grows, it also expects to offer lobbying support, industry training and other services to its membership.

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