Remember Public Cellular Networks in Smart Meter Adoption

One of the biggest discussion points at the recent MEA Summit was the reliance of Smart Meter technology on the public cellular networks for communication.

There seemed to be a great deal of confusion about negotiating private cellular communications versus dependence on fully public networks. Many folks also described putting in their own femtocell and microcell deployments to greatly reduce the dependence on communication assets that they did not own. However, as you might expect, the purchase, install, management, and maintenance of private cellular infrastructure is expensive, requires skilled personnel, and often bumps into regulatory issues with frequency control and saturation.

Other considerations than cost also emerged with several ICS/SCADA owners discussing prioritization of repair issues versus consumer deployments, problems with negotiating effective, acceptable Service Level Agreements with the cell network vendors and a lack of understanding on the cell vendors’ part about ICS/SCADA deployments/integration/criticality in general.
Clearly, more analysis, study, and communication needs to occur between ICS/SCADA researchers/owners/developers and the relevant cellular network engineers/implementation teams to grow mutual knowledge and understanding between the parties. In the meantime, ICS/SCADA owners must strive to clearly identify their needs around cellular technologies, clearly demarcate the requirements for private/segmented/public cellular network use and understand the benefits/issues and threats of what they are utilizing. Cellular communications has a clear role to play in the future of ICS/SCADA, but the waters of how it will be managed, how it will be secured and how smaller organizations can obtain it affordably remain a bit muddy for now.
If your organization has winning strategies or has concerns that have arisen with the use of cellular networks, we would love to hear about them in the comments. The more ICS/SCADA owners work together to bring this knowledge forward, the more quickly and effectively we can resolve many of the issues that utilities and other organizations are encountering.