Photons enabling Electrons
What Power Utilities should expect from their Optical Network
If electrical power generation and transmission is the heart and lifeblood of a power utility, then the telecommunications network carrying its Information Technology (IT) and Operational Technology (OT) traffic is its nervous system. As utilities modernize, they are continually adding endpoints to this network, such as SCADA, metering, and surveillance equipment, in generation stations, sub-stations, and even at transmission towers. This is causing exponential traffic growth, stressing the telecommunications network and its underlying optical layer.
If your utility is currently using leased optical lines, or an older generation optical network, then you are likely losing money and missing opportunities. Leased lines have high monthly costs that keep rising as facilities are added for new interfaces and increased traffic, and an internal first-generation optical network is always a step behind, being patched-up with band-aid solutions. Neither approach can generate revenues through bandwidth services.
What to do? Often the best approach is to upgrade to a modern optical networking system that can pay back for itself quickly through facility consolidation and operational efficiency, and as a platform for new revenues. Here is a checklist of items to consider on what to expect from a new optical networking system.
- Support a bandwidth wholesaler or Carrier of Carriers business. In many cases, it is easier for telecommunications service providers and mobile network operators to fulfill their exploding bandwidth needs by leasing capacity for parts of their network. To deliver this revenue generating capability, it should be second nature to your utility optical network to support alien wavelengths and shared spectrum. Particularly important is being able to monitor the performance of alien wavelengths in real-time, to detect and isolate problems before they affect other parts of your network.
- Multiservice aggregation. It goes without saying that the optical network should also be able to transport high bandwidth services like 100GbE, and even 400GbE. Just as important, is being able to aggregate low speed Layer 1 services including general purpose Ethernet, Fibre Channel for storage networking, legacy SDH/SONET protocols, and various video interfaces, onto a single wavelength to make most efficient use of network resources.
- Encryption against fiber tapping. Fiber optic cables span long exposed distances where they are susceptible to fiber tapping, endangering all the information they are carrying to interception. This is particularly problematic for unencrypted OT information, such as from SCADA devices. Even when packet level information is encrypted, address fields are not, giving a hacker access to topologies and traffic patterns. Strong Layer 1 optical encryption is the only solution to this challenge. The most flexible solutions enable encrypting individual services on a common wavelength selectively.
- Survivability against failures. It is critical to maintain network communications in the event of failures, such as fiber cuts. An optical network should come with protection switching options that can recover services within 50ms. Supplementary dynamic restoration capabilities that can reroute wavelengths around failures can also sustain the network against multiple fiber cuts!
- Comprehensive control and fiber health management. Running an optical network is not the core business of a power utility. Therefore, it essential to have end-to-end visibility of the optical network, and exercise complete control over it, using a small operations staff. Performance monitoring should be able to compare against historical measurement to catch degradations early on. OTDR (optical time domain reflectometry) is another “must have” to monitor the physical health of a fiber, including the integrity of all splices along a fiber’s path. In the event of a fiber cut, which can often occur in power utility networks, OTDR can quickly detect the location of the cut to within a few meters.
- Smooth migration. It should be a painless exercise to migrate existing services to the new optical network. Ensure that the new network has all the tools to pre-test all the optical trails prior to cutover, and then move the services over seamlessly, in a matter of minutes. The expectation should be virtually uninterrupted operations.
A power utility can gain many advantages from deploying their own optical network to transport their IT and OT telecommunications traffic. The utility can tailor the solution to their business needs and use it as a platform to generate additional revenues.