The future of organizations that provide and maintain critical infrastructure will increasingly rely on data. Specifically, the power and potential of the Industrial Internet of Things (Industrial IoT) allows these organizations a near instantaneous view into their operations, and the ability to become more efficient, improve productivity, and keep personnel and the communities they serve safe.
As data consumption grows, so will the need for a secure, reliable and practical wireless communications “pipe” that provides the necessary coverage and capacity for seamless data transmission. Data usage is expected to grow 40% per year into the next decade, and that includes consumer, public, and private users--all of whom expect unhindered access and constant functionality of applications and services. Unfortunately, broadband spectrum is akin to a finite resource.
To try and meet this demand, commercial network carriers want a shot at bidding for spectrum to increase their service area and their ability to increase capacity. Unfortunately there are few good spectrum bands to be had, and refining users and reorganizing some of the current bands will take many years and billions of dollars to come to fruition. Like commercial carriers, public safety is also a serious contender for broadband spectrum with backing by the government for mandated spectrum allocations. They can use this data to prevent and respond to emergencies quicker and more effectively.
This unfortunately leaves almost all critical infrastructure organizations seemingly stuck in no man’s land. They are also increasingly relying on data for greater efficiencies in order to operate safer and more productively, and they typically can’t afford to outbid commercial carriers like Verizon, nor do they necessarily garner the same recognition as public safety agencies for addressing life-or-death situations. Recently FirstNet--the independent authority within the National Telecommunication and Information Administration (NTIA) tasked to provide emergency responders with the first nationwide, high-speed, broadband network dedicated to public safety--has warmed to the idea of critical infrastructure organizations using a piece of their spectrum, when available. This will be helpful when day-to-day operations are going as planned and bandwidth is not strained, but could prove detrimental when an event arises and public safety requires an excess amount of bandwidth, leaving utilities and others in the dark - literally.
So, how can critical infrastructure organizations ensure the communication of their valuable data?
For some data functions that require broadband bandwidth, like video transmission, the issues above will continue to pose problems for the foreseeable future. Fortunately, many operations-critical data applications don’t require broadband and can run over a low data rate network. Supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) and other non-latency sensitive machine-to-machine (M2M) applications don’t typically need the speeds and throughput of broadband and can run fine over narrowband wireless two-way radio networks. These IP-based radio systems can even be integrated with other existing systems and networks for a more streamlined flow of information throughout an organization.
Coincidentally, many critical infrastructure organizations have two-way radio networks already in place that they have counted on for secure, reliable and wide-area voice communications. These same system qualities can be applied to the operations-critical data communications that organizations can’t afford to have disconnected in the event of public safety agencies needing higher-than-usual bandwidth. By leveraging a proven system, critical infrastructure organizations are able to increase their return on investment and essentially do more with less. To aid companies with this decision, the Utilities Telecom Council just released a white paper outlining how to best choose and utilize a two-way radio network for M2M communications.
There is certain benefit from critical infrastructure organizations having access to a broadband pipe and it will eventually be necessary as data needs grow. But when it comes down to the operations-critical data communication necessary today, the more practical option could be a private, narrowband two-way radio network.
For more information on connecting machines and automating processes for greater control and monitoring across your operations - all on your two-way radio network - check out motorolasolutions.com/industrialiot.
Brad Janitz is a Product Marketing Specialist at Motorola Solutions.