Digital Transformation

How Full Spectrum's wireless tech went from smart grids to industrial IoT

Full Spectrum's CEO explains how the company's wireless networking technology went from smart power grids to full-blown industrial IoT.

Industrial IoT can be a key component of a company's digital transformation strategy. Stewart Kantor, CEO of Full Spectrum, spoke with TechRepublic about how the company's wireless communications technology has gone from helping utilities automate their smart power grids to helping all types of companies digitally transform their business through industrial use of the Internet of Things.

Teena Maddox: Tell me about Full Spectrum's industrial applications.

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Stewart Kantor: So our company, we started out around 10 years ago to focus on industrial applications for the electric utility industry and at that point we were referring to a lot of what we refer to now as the industrial internet of things. That was heavily what they called a smart grid focus or a pre-dating that it was machine to machine or really just connectivity for industrial applications. And so we, we had a very a utility focus and looking at automation of components of the electric grid and using a proprietary technology that we developed from the ground up for industrial internet applications. And for the smart grid, it was things like substation automation, what they called a distribution automation, which is voltage regulators and capacitor banks. Pretty much anything you see hanging off of a utility line. And about three years ago, early 2015, we were approached by the electric utility industry specifically EPRI, which is the Electric Power Research Institute, and they said, look your technology is perfect for industrial applications, but we want to create a standard around it so other companies can participate and continue to develop the technology along with Full Spectrum. And so, that initiative was kicked off in I guess January 2015 and then October 2017 the standard was published and it's a known as IEEE 802.16s and to my knowledge, it's really one of the only licensed wireless protocols for industrial automation today.

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Teena Maddox: What are some of the other industrial and commercial applications?

Stewart Kantor: In manufacturing, typically they're using a cable type network. Our technology's really focused on wide area deployments. So some of the characteristics that are common into industrial users are that they often, it goes beyond just a single plant or a series of plants, but is more, for example, let's use the electric grid. One of our customers, typically they're trying to cover a typical customer will be 10,000 square miles. One of our customers, Rappahannock Electric, they operate in 20 counties just west of Washington D.C. including in the Blue Ridge mountains. So they're trying to cover a very large area with an industrial internet technology. So one of the things that a lot of the utility industry experience in the 2005 to 2010 timeframe was people looked at using Wi-Fi applications outside, unlicensed Wi-Fi to manage these wide area networks and almost all those projects failed and it was really because they could not obtain the coverage over a wide area. So for example, one of our base stations covers roughly 3,000 square miles from a single base station. And that's in opposition to something like an LTE technology, 4th generation technology, that's deployed by AT&T or Verizon. You're looking at, historically we've talked about 30 square miles, but they moved the tower sites with less/lower coverage now, and it may be as little as three square miles from a tower. So if you can imagine you're an industrial customer and you're trying to cover a very wide area, thousands and thousands of square miles, to do an LTE-type technology would cost you literally that customer, if they were to look at LTE technology, it would be $100,000,000 to just cover their service territory. So, one of the ideal positioning of this standard and the equipment is that it uses a combination of licensed frequencies that propagate very well, so you need minimal infrastructure to cover your territory.

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Teena Maddox: How can you assure your customers of a secure network?

Stewart Kantor: There are a variety of levels of security. Some of our customers run their network over these large areas completely off net with air gap between their corporate network and this network. So that's one of the compelling parts of this is you can originate and terminate your traffic over a very large area with very little infrastructure and never touched the public internet. On the other hand, if you want to open up access, you can do it on a limited basis or a time based interval where someone has access to the network and then it's closed back off. So there's all sorts of levels of security just from the way the networks deployed as a private network. And using licensed frequencies, every one of our customers within the standard, there are many options to define your quality of service. So when a industrial customer deploys our technology, they'll end up with their own configuration that is designed just for them. So another device joining the network in addition to having authentication and over-the-air, they also have what you would say is a special version of what they're deploying that somebody would need to know in order to gain access to the network.

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About Teena Maddox

Teena Maddox is a Senior Writer at TechRepublic, covering hardware devices, IoT, smart cities and wearables. She ties together the style and substance of tech. Teena has spent 20-plus years writing business and features for publications including Peo...

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