Ondas Networks has developed spectrum-harvesting and channel-aggregation capabilities that allow for the use of many different and disparate frequency bands across the VHF and UHF spectrum with the same core radio technology, the company announced at last month’s Utilities Technology Council’s UTC Telecom & Technology Conference in Fort Worth, Texas.
“Think of this as a multiband cellular network that has almost no limitation,” said Stewart Kantor, company president. “This capability reduces the need to host multiple frequency networks, which can be very costly. Channel aggregation is the ability to take non-adjacent channels and bond them together to create a bigger data pipe.
“This capability gives the mission-critical users a capacity upgrade without having to invest in new spectrum in the secondary markets or at auction. We consider this to be breakthrough wireless technology for mission-critical users worldwide,” he added.
Many mission-critical entities already own or have access to licensed narrow channels in the VHF, UHF, land mobile radio and multiple address system bands, which are lightly used or underused, Kantor said. He explained that as access to larger broadband channels becomes limited and as the FCC considers opening up unlicensed spectrum, mission-critical users need to be able to use the narrowband channels that they already have access to, or that are being abandoned by larger commercial cellular carriers as they expand into larger channel sizes.
“Utilities can create private networks capable of handling increased mission-critical IoT data communications while simultaneously benefiting from the enhanced security, reliability and availability of licensed spectrum,” Kantor said.
Ondas develops private licensed wireless data networks for the utility, rail, transportation, oil and gas, and government sectors. According to the company, these networks enhance the security and reliability of utilities and infrastructure, and aid utility and grid modernization efforts.
Ondas Networks Offering Private Wireless-as-a-Service at 700 MHz
Ondas Networks recently acquired 700 MHz frequencies in Alaska and the Gulf of Mexico and is offering private wireless networks as a service, where it takes on the responsibility of deploying and maintaining the network. This arrangement gives mission-critical operators an option for access to licensed networks that are dedicated only to critical infrastructure efforts, he said.
Kantor said that Ondas purchased the spectrum in the secondary license markets. “Since the early 1990s, the FCC has implemented a process whereby commercial spectrum is auctioned,” he said. “Post-auction, the license-holders are allowed to sell their spectrum to others. These markets are referred to as secondary markets. There are a number of frequencies available in the secondary markets.”
The company specifically purchased frequencies in the Upper 700 MHz A Block, which consists of two 1-megahertz channels, because it is ideal for industrial and private networks with flexible use rules, Kantor said. “This is different from consumer-grade spectrum, which is focused high-capacity downstream capacity,” he said.
Ondas Networks’ own software-defined radio technology named FullMAX is the basis for the IEEE 802.16s licensed wireless standard, which Kantor said is designed specifically to use narrower channels of 2 megahertz less for private mission-critical networks.
“We are targeting critical industrial users, including commercial rail, utilities, oil-and-gas producers and governmental entities,” Kantor said. “The needs of these markets are very different from consumer wireless networks. Industrial networks need highly reliable upstream capacity and connectivity for monitoring and control of their remote assets. Consumer spectrum and networks are designed to offer high-capacity downstream rates for video and general internet traffic.
Still a Private Wireless Technology Provider
The company originated as a provider of private licensed wireless network technologies and remains so, working with mission-critical entities including electric utilities, railroad operators, government entities and oil and gas operators to establish secure and reliable connectivity, Kantor said.
The company continues to provide its FullMAX platform, which provides the RF software and hardware needed for other companies on their own to deploy networks in any licensed mission-critical band based on the 802.16s standard.
The Ondas website describes its 802.16s network as a private version of the internet of things. Asked how the network improves upon the old supervisory control and data access (SCADA) systems and how it differs from the public internet of things, Kantor said thatSCADA systems continue to be the workhorse technology for the monitoring and control of industrial networks for electric utilities and mission critical users. He said that SCADA protocol has a relatively low data rate with a latency-sensitive protocol that historically has been carried over dedicated wired serial modem connections.
“Almost all SCADA users have now moved to packetized networks where the SCADA protocol is carried in an Ethernet or IP packet,” Kantor said. “This eases the management and cost of operating a SCADA network while giving the breathing room for other monitoring and control data traffic based on Ethernet or internet protocol, such as voice over internet protocol (VoIP), video and web browsing. 802.16s was designed to take a limited amount of licensed spectrum to create a multipurpose network for SCADA, advanced Ethernet and IP-based applications. 802.16s specifically has quality-of-service features that allow for peaceful coexistence of latency-sensitive SCADA traffic and other applications.”
Public, Private Networks Separated by Priority of Service
The greatest differentiator between the public and private networks for the internet of things, according to Kantor, is the priority of service. Commercial cellular networks for the public internet of things are generally focused on consumer applications and as such, will prioritize them, he said. This shows in the way the data traffic flows, as prioritization is on downlink capabilities for consumer streaming and internet use, Kantor said, as opposed to the uplink capabilities utilities and mission-critical applications need to pull data back from the field.
Another concern Kantor cited is prioritization during natural and manmade disasters. “If there is a power outage, cellular networks overload very quickly – this is precisely when mission-critical users need reliable means of communication,” Kantor said. “For example, after Hurricane Sandy, about a quarter of the cell towers were compromised for several weeks. Public networks in the United States are not required to have backup power for more than several hours.”
This lack of control and prioritization, coupled with mission-critical entities looking to incorporate more intelligence using wireless edge devices such as sensors and regulators, is pushing them to look for alternative network options capable of handling SCADA, Kantor explained. He said that private wireless networks designed for the private, mission-critical IoT (MC-IoT) are able to handle increased data needs that legacy networks were not designed for. They prioritize uplink traffic to pull information back from the edge and offer control to the utilities that deploy them within licensed frequency bands, he said.
“Ondas Networks’ FullMAX technology is the basis for the IEEE 802.16s wireless standard, which is the most efficient air interface protocol for narrow-channel licensed wireless networks,” Kantor said. “Legacy narrowband technologies do not offer the throughput or quality of service found in the 802.16s technology. That is why the utility industry, including EPRI and the Utilities Technology Council got behind the standards in the first place. Our network technology is the key element to scale mission-critical wireless networks.”
Kantor said that there are plenty of private wireless network providers, and more are jumping on the bandwagon to capitalize on the growing mission-critical IoT. However, he said that many of the technologies designed specifically for the needs of industrial and critical infrastructure users that are capable of using existing narrowband spectrum owned by those entities are proprietary. By using old, single-vendor technologies, Kantor said, utilities place all of their eggs in one basket and can find themselves with little flexibility should those single vendors’ technologies become obsolete.