Q: Please tell us about yourself and your career background?
Craig: I am a Senior Product Manager, within GE’s industrial communications product line, working for the MDS wireless group. My education is in electrical engineering at Geneva College, and I’ve spent 21 years executing software design and firmware development. Most of that was here at MDS doing wireless product design and development focused on the energy and industrial industries.
Q: Can you provide some background as to why you decided to join UBBA? What initially sparked your interest in utility broadband?
Craig: We joined UBBA after we’d been comparing notes, around broadband and private LTE, for quite some time with folks from Anterix. Our business has been working with utilities for nearly 30 years to provide industrial equipment and four years ago we introduced cellular to our portfolio. That was largely for operation on the public carriers and we’ve seen everything that the utilities are trying to do with broadband.
When we heard about the formation of UBBA and their mission, we were excited to be involved because we believe there’s a lot of opportunity here for the utilities, and we wanted to be a part of helping create that ecosystem.
Q: What is the current focus of the Business working group? And what is your vision for this group and how would you define long-term success?
Craig: We had a good session at UBBA’s first face-to-face meeting in Fort Worth, TX and we have a great guy working as the Business working group chair – John Hughes from Ameren. The current focus of the group is to articulate what all we should be looking at and delivering. We’re setting the focus on establishing a set of reference materials, highlighting some models that any utility can use when they are working on an RFP and they need to justify the cost of deploying an LTE network – whether that be to justify the cost to their Public Utilities Commission or internally to their own executive staff.
We’re looking at what a business case would look like for utilities to be able to install a network for their own operations. Also, quite a few folks believe that commercializing a network beyond the utilities would be somewhat similar to what a commercial ISP would do but could be a key part of the business case.
There are other working groups that we’re partnering with. For us, one of the key ones is the Use Cases working group, because they’re charged with figuring out all the ways to use a private broadband network.
I believe the long-term success of our group is being able to deliver a solid business case modeling tool that can be used by utilities, and a whitepaper as well. That’s where the utilities are going to draw the biggest benefit and where our work will have the biggest impact. I think there’s a lot of heavy lifting that we as a group can do for the utilities.
There’s a lot of very experienced folks involved in UBBA, and it’s crucial to pull our collective knowledge together, outline it on paper and be able to articulate the benefits of these networks. I believe there’s a great deal of language and analysis that can be leveraged, instead of each utility having to effectively reinvent the wheel.
Q: What are the main challenges utilities face today and how do you see private broadband networks as part of the answer?
Craig: Every utility we speak to is either planning or is in the midst of some grid modernization project. They’re all moving in the direction of trying to figure out how to bring in renewable generation. Adding renewables into the grid presents numerous technical and operational challenges. There’s a focus on minimizing outages and dealing with the increasingly extreme storms, hurricanes and the flooding that are coming in and putting a huge strain on utilities.
Utilities have several goals around minimizing outages, getting power restored quickly and, of course, safety is expanding. Broadband enables all those different applications that are increasing efficiency where we see wasted energy – things like volt/VAR optimization, fault location and system restoration. That’s where broadband comes into play; it’s going to unlock applications to be able to truly modernize the grid.
The other key thing that broadband enables is a variety of video applications, even virtual reality (VR). All of those are fairly bandwidth heavy and we want to be able to have video in the field – and send it back to dispatch or an operation center. That requires a lot of bandwidth and LTE is a great technology for that.
Q: How important is UBBA for utility industry stakeholders?
Craig: I think the alliance is already showing its value. There were numerous thought leaders and people at our last meeting in Texas that are already making things happen. UBBA is the place where all these different people are coming together.
For us on the GE side, it’s valuable to have both vendors and utility folks in the same room to share ideas and experiences and to learn from each other. LTE is a huge technology with so many prospects to it. From the business case working group perspective, a utility trying to specify an LTE network and purchase it, is a daunting task. UBBA is going to be a place where utilities can learn from one another and lean on that collective knowledge with everybody thinking together about how to do this cost effectively, efficiently and safely.