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Security

'Black Sky' fears help drive interest in private wireless networks

There are a wide range of reasons why organizations ranging from utility providers to government agencies are looking at building their own private wireless networks. They might want to ensure employees' communications in hard-to-reach places, or they might want to connect machinery to the Internet that might otherwise remain isolated.

But one big, driving factor behind some new private wireless deployments are fears about a catastrophic "Black Sky" event that would wipe out all communications networks.

"Key components of a private LTE network would be integrated into hardened sites to provide a robust communications capability in the event of a Black Sky scenario that would disrupt conventional means of communications," wrote Dominion Energy Virginia, a utility provider serving around 2.6 million customers across parts of Virginia and North Carolina through 6,700 miles of electric transmission lines and 58,000 miles of electric distribution lines.

The company recently filed plans with the FCC to test a private wireless network across parts of Virginia using LTE equipment from Nokia and spectrum from Anterix.

"Dominion Energy Virginia ... is exploring the potential for a private LTE network in the 900MHz spectrum to reliably serve voice and data needs to meet today's requirements as well as future initiatives to reliably transport energy from diverse sources to achieve the renewable energy goals," the company explained, pointing to everything from employee communications to drone connections.

But it's the security situation that could seal the deal.

"A Black Sky hazard is a catastrophic event that severely disrupts the normal functioning of our critical infrastructures in multiple regions for long durations," explained the Electric Infrastructure Security Council on its website. The association pointed to threats ranging from an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) caused by a nuclear detonation in the upper atmosphere to cyberterrorism to earthquakes, hurricanes and other natural events.

Such concerns have been undoubtedly heightened by events ranging from the Russian hack that took down the Ukraine power grid in 2015 to the storming of the US Capitol this week by a mob incited by President Trump.

"This private LTE network will advance the reliability and security of the electric grid," Bhavani Amirthalingam, a top executive with utility giant Ameren, told Urgent Communications. Ameren also recently announced plans to test a private wireless LTE network in part with spectrum from Anterix.

Utilities and Anterix aren't the only ones playing in this space, of course. For example, the Port of Seattle plans to build a wireless network in part with spectrum from Globalstar and equipment from Nokia. Globalstar's spectrum "offers partners secure and reliable connectivity in any environment," explained Globalstar's Jay Monroe in a release.

Thus, it's no surprise that AT&T and Verizon have also recently fleshed out their own private wireless networking sales plans.

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Mike Dano, Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies, Light Reading | @mikeddano

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