Industrial Wireless Technologies and their Applications for Protection Automation & Monitoring

Authors: Palak Parikh, Justin Smith, and Michael Pilon, GE Grid Solutions

Industrial wireless technology can provide power utilities with industrial grade reliability, security and performance. Industrial wireless devices are built with various substation-hardened standards, such as IEEE 1613 and IEC 61850-3, with the devices able to withstand electrostatic discharge (ESD) and electromagnetic field (EMF) radiation, as well as mechanical vibrations and extreme temperatures which are commonly encountered in grid applications.

Wireless networks are equipped with encryption technologies like IPSec VPNs and APNs with key rotation used to enable an end-to-end encrypted IP tunnel through which data can flow securely between utility assets. Similar to a private network, a public wireless network allows RADIUS, authorization, authentication and accounting services.

As shown in Figure 1 for Industrial and Distribution Protection and Automation, appropriate wireless technology can be selected and deployed to meet data latency and throughput requirements. This article focuses on three basic wireless technologies:

1.   Cellular

2.   Licensed

3.   Unlicensed



Cellular systems operate on different licensed frequency spectrums that can be purchased/leased from governments for various applications. Existing 3G (3rd Generation) / 4G (4th Generation) cellular technology operates on the licensed spectrum ranges of 824-894 MHz / 1720-1900 MHz / 2500 MHz. Data transmission rates of this technology are 60-240Kbps for 3G and can be greater than 20Mbps for 4G, while distance coverage is dependent upon the availability of cellular service tower installations, which facilitate non-interrupted data flow. This results in a point-to-point architecture that can receive data from serial or Ethernet interfaces and transmit data on a second interface over the cellular network, enabling normally wired components to become wireless.

As cellular network technology has evolved, key performance characteristics have improved considerably. 4G is the present standard for cellular technology, with each generation improving the throughput, coverage, hand-off, link quality, and latency of the network. Since network coverage is from the service provider, range tends to be less important to users than with other wireless implementations. Table 1 shows the key 4G cellular performance parameters.

The advantage of cellular technology is that the existing established infrastructure covers a wide area, and with recent growth in 3G / 4G cellular technology, the data rate and Quality of Service (QoS) are improving rapidly.

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