Can we future-proof water utilities' data transmission?

Can we future-proof water utilities’ data transmission?

As the deadlines for BT’s withdrawal of TDM and PSTN services approach, water utilities with legacy systems will need to consider how to reliably and cost-effectively transmit their control, automation and voice data, writes Matthew Ellison – Business Development Manager, Water & Environment Sector, Wireless Innovation.

BT’s CN21 initiative to convert to IP broadband ultimately promises reduced OPEX, lower maintenance and an enhanced customer experience. However, the decision to not develop like-for-like services following the cessation of Time Division Multiplex (TDM) private wire in 2020 and Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) services in 2025, poses significant challenges.

Whilst digital transformation and an integrated supply chain are important goals of Ofwat’s 2020 vision, IP migration shouldn’t be forced. It should be timely and cost-effective, with a choice of solutions, minimising downtime and protecting customers. So, how can we efficiently transmit data to monitor and control infrastructure and assets pre, during and post IP migration?

Fortunately, there are data solutions that don’t just fill the gap between analogue and digital. The right solution will enable digital asset management, automation and analytics to propel water utilities towards insights-driven innovation.

Water, Water Everywhere

Private wire is no longer available for new outstations and new PSTN services can’t be purchased after 2023. Interim solutions, like SOTAP (Single Order Transitional Access Product) are expensive for low bandwidth communications, as is fibre connectivity. Communication providers will likely advocate switching to SOTAP when it becomes available in 2020 and water companies embracing this option will have to commit to full IP migration by 2025. VSAT isn’t a viable alternative as this residential grade public network system lacks the requisite security, reliability and resilience. Other issues are that many telemetry and SCADA systems operate in silos and multi-supplier landscapes can be complex and expensive.

Our clients’ biggest concerns are the cost of migration, and that failure to meet deadlines means downtime. Their priority is a solution that protects their customers; avoids regulatory fines and reputational damage; and fulfils their practical requirements.

The ideal solution must communicate seamlessly with legacy Telemetry/SCADA; comply with a range of protocols; receive schedules and control signals; provide sufficiently low latency; and be viable post IP migration. Operational control over signal parsing, scheduling and profiles; advanced archiving capabilities and a manual download function are also essential. According to Kaspersky’s 2018 State of Industrial Cybersecurity Report, cutting-edge security remains of paramount importance, as 31% of the global businesses surveyed experienced one or more industrial control system security incidents last year.

“One size fits all” doesn’t work for the diversity of applications, data and timescales, so it’s essential to identify an end-to-end solution that enables customisation and proper system integration.

A Bridge Over Troubled Data

Expertly configured Satellite data and voice solutions meet these requirements and support analogue and IP applications concurrently. Whilst fixed line and cellular can be inaccessible in remote locations or natural disasters, satellite offers a range of failsafe hardware and services that can be integrated for a bespoke end-to-end solution. Historically satellite was expensive, but good providers will offer flexible payment, like a 5-year lease-purchase. Our water experts are creating a calculation tool that allows clients to compare the pricing of their current systems, other solutions and a lease-purchase of our solutions, to demonstrate the cost benefits of satellite.

Secure Private Network

TSAT is a scalable, configurable, two-way data solution supporting Serial and IP systems, with near-global coverage over a private satellite network. Independence from public infrastructure means optimal security and reliability. TSAT enables direct communication between process control centres and remote locations; local and remote operation; terminal grouping to optimise bandwidth; VoiP and visual images; and it’s suited to “always on” applications. Pricing is a flat rate and it can be supplied with minimal investment for ground-station equipment making it cost-efficient even for smaller networks and point to point applications. It’s ideal for transmitting real-time data and for remote monitoring and control applications.

Extending M2M Capabilities

The BGAN M2M satellite service with on-demand, voice and data IP connectivity over the Inmarsat network, is ideal for lower level data requirements. It has low power consumption and offers a solar-powered option, two-way encryption and a metered pricing model. BGAN expands the scope of M2M applications to manage assets in remote locations. The robust terminals are easy to install, scale-up and maintain. It’s widely used for data backhaul, real-time asset and environmental monitoring and smart metering.

When selecting a provider, it’s important to choose one that offers a range of solutions, satellite networks and add-ons like data analytics, to create a tailored, end-to-end, regulatory compliant solution that works with a variety of protocols like WITS and IEC870.

With the right satellite solution water utilities can turn the challenges of IP migration into an opportunity to create a smarter network, enable insights-driven innovation and achieve long-term efficiency, security and sustainability.

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