Everyone knows the days of the US telecom carriers supporting their old copper facilities are numbered. All the major service providers have filed with PUC’s and the FCC stating this fact. So why haven’t all utilities started the undertaking of finding new telecommunication solutions to replace those old POTs and Class A circuits when such critical services as SCADA and teleprotection ride over them? This is a mystery that keeps me up at night. It is something that should not be taken lightly and if you have not started, I am going to give you 5 good reasons on why you should get moving NOW.
- A random letter in the mail stating you have 30 days to find a new solution – Yes, it can happen to you and is happening where it hurts utilities the most – in the rural areas of their service territory. I have spent the last two years at a forward thinking client helping them implement a new Field Area Network (FAN) to replace more than 1,000 analog circuits to 200+ substations. They have received such letters and even though we have vetted and approved technologies, we cannot get them there in 30 days. We need drawing packages, engineering approvals, construction crews, IT support and so on. So we scramble, patch together a solution and then go put something permanent in later. This is expensive and causes a lot of rework.
- Do you like unexpected increases in your OPEX budget? I think the answer to that question would be a resounding, NO. We helped develop the business case for a client on the ROI for implementing a private network to replace their analog circuits. We factored in an annual rate increase of 15%. Fast forward two and half years and our clients are seeing a 20% rate increase every six months. When you have thousands of circuits, this adds up and hurts the bottom-line. Right now, we can not retire enough circuits to fend off the ever increasing costs.
- Old Father Time is nipping at your heels – Everyone in our industry knows it is coming – the death of the analog circuit. We have heard that as of 2017 there will no longer be support for anything T1 and below and 2020 is dooms day for anything less than an OC-48. Ouch! Yes, OC-48. Whatever the date, whatever the year, it is fast approaching and time is of the essence. The good news here is it is not too late. There is a solid ROI and most executives understand why this is an important initiative in maintaining grid resiliency.
- LTE is not your savior – Yes, you can throw in LTE modems as the quick and dirty savior solution when the disconnect letters start flying in, but what happens when those same carriers decide to go to LTE-advanced or 5G and ends support for LTE 4G? Do you think they will care that you have to replace hundreds if not thousands of your devices to be compatible? With a 60% YOY increase in Internet traffic, this is where the service provider’s focus will be to increase bandwidth speeds to mobile users and not in servicing the needs of utilities. We have one client who knows all too well the challenge and expense of replacing these modems. It is painful, expensive and time consuming for their field crews. Yes, it is a necessary solution in a pinch but be aware that eventually, this too will have to be replaced.
- The Utilities Telecom Council (UTC) is not your savior either – First of all, I love all of the efforts that the UTC does for our industry, but the carriers have better lobbyists and deeper pockets. The FCC is not going to force the carriers to continue to maintain support of these facilities as they have a lot of challenges we have – an aging workforce and infrastructure. Enough said.
Retirement of your analog circuits is going to be a larger transitional effort than you may realize. Three years ago we partnered with a client that had forward thinking leadership to start a program to retire their analog circuits and they are now continuing to reap the benefits of lower OPEX costs, and also installing a private network with higher reliability and resiliency. We have learned a lot together and there will be more key learnings in the years ahead but that is for another blog.