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Newton-Evans Study Finds Heavy Use of IP/MPLS and Continued Reliance on Utility-Operated Telecommunications Networks for EMS/SCADA and DMS Systems

The latest findings from the Newton-Evans Research Company study of control systems used in the electric power industry point to heavy reliance on IP/MPLS networks for wide area communications from substations and other field locations to central site control systems.

Reliance on IP/MPLS Networks
Sixty-seven percent of international respondents use Internet Protocol/Multi-Protocol Label Switching (IP/MPLS) technology for communication from the substation to the external host/network. Thirty percent use a mix of T1/E1 and/or SONET/SDH and packet networks. It is likely that MPLS-TP (Transport Profile) will see increased use in the next Newton-Evans control systems study scheduled for 2019.

Forty-nine percent of North American respondents use IP/MPLS network technology for communication from the substation to the external host/network. Thirty-seven percent use T1/E1 and 33% use SONET/SDH, followed by 27% who use Carrier Ethernet. Often, more than one type of network is used. Half of North America’s investor owned utilities in the survey continue to use T1/E1, and over half of them use IP/MPLS as well.

Continue reading Newton-Evans Study Finds Heavy Use of IP/MPLS and Continued Reliance on Utility-Operated Telecommunications Networks for EMS/SCADA and DMS Systems

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Distribution Automation: Communications for Feeder Automation

The following information was excerpted from a Newton-Evans survey conducted in September 2010. A total of 47 utility officials from the U.S., Canada, Europe and Asia-Pacific regions responded to the survey participation request. For the majority of U.S.-based respondents, there was a good mix of utility representation by size and by type of utility.

Do you plan to migrate (or have you already migrated) the existing feeder automation communications network to a newer wireless technology that allows for functionality like higher bandwidth, IP enabled radios and WiMAX?
Fifty-six percent of respondents had no plans to undertake any migration to newer wireless technology approaches. Sixteen percent of survey respondents had already migrated their existing feeder automation communications network to a newer wireless technology, while 30% were planning to do so.

If you are adding wireless technologies for feeder automation communications, which wireless technology are you planning to migrate to?
Three specific technologies were listed on the survey form (WiMAX, LTE and 4G) along with “other.” Forty-one percent cited WiMAX, 18% mentioned 4G and 6% listed LTE. More than three quarters of the group listed other wireless technologies as shown below.

Other Mentions

  • NetCom 900MHz packet radio
  • IP radio system
  • 700mHz Arcadian
  • CDMA 450 Mhz
  • Owned licensed spectrum
  • not sure; investigating
  • RFP stage
  • Low bandwidth/IP enabled IDEN
  • Higher speed 900 mHz supporting IP
  • Under investigation; not decided yet
  • unlicensed spread spectrum
  • Wimax, 802.11 technology, 900 mHz spread spectrum
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Substation Communications Protocols

Choice of protocol within the substation, between substations, and from the substation to the external host or network.

Newton-Evans studies of the North American market for substation automation suggest that while there has been some (minimal) movement toward at least testing and piloting IEC 61850 in the U.S. and Canada, there has been no significant shift toward widespread adoption of the protocol suite among North American utilities. Nonetheless, previous studies have predicted that by the end of this year 10% of North American electric utilities may be using some level of IEC 61850, probably in conjunction with other protocols.

The current users of DNP 3 and Modbus continue on with these protocols (migrating from serial to LAN-based versions) through the end of this year. Several utilities are reliant upon SEL protocols in more of their substation integration activities, at least among SEL customers.

Are protocols encrypted?
The trend towards encryption of substation communications is growing steadily every few years, as is evident from previous Newton-Evans studies.


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Smart Grid and Time Synchronization

Precision timing and time synchronization are topics vital to the future of smart grid operations, especially in electric power substations. In the recently published Newton-Evans, “Assessment and Overview of the World Market for Time Synchronization in Electric Power Substations,” we asked 17 vendors what time references their substation IEDs support. Fourteen out of 17 said that their products support IRIG-B, and 13 indicated NTP (Network Timing Protocol). Precision Timing Protocol (PTP) and Pulse Rates are offered and supported by 9 of these manufacturers while PTP with Power Profile is supported by 7. Just over one-third (35%) reported using direct GPS signals, while nearly one-quarter (23.5%) of the group reported “other” time references were used or offered with their substation equipment.


The participating manufacturers represent the majority of substation-based intelligent electronic devices (other than protective relays) used in conjunction with substation modernization programs. A number of these respondents also manufacture synchrophasor products including phasor measurement units and phasor data concentrators. Among the other product classes represented are: metering products; communications switches; fault and event recorders; protective relays; automation processing platforms; equipment monitors, and a range of IEC 61850 and DNP 3 supported equipment and devices.

Utility and Consultant Survey Observations
There was strong support for this time synchronization study received from 57 utilities in 24 countries. In addition to the utilities, six leading international engineering consulting firms provided key members of their substation consulting teams to participate in the study. The survey included 14 questions related to substation timing issues and current approaches to synchronize and distribute timing information.

Current Market for Precision Time Clocks
The multi-industry use of precision clocks (masters and slaves) is estimated to be in the range of $200-250 Million as of 2012, with moderate to good growth anticipated by clock manufacturers as well as by utility users. The mid-to-long term market outlook indicates growing interest in adoption of precision timing protocol (PTP) IEEE 1588.

Global sales of time synchronization devices for use in electric power substation (and all other electric power) applications are estimated to be in the range of $35-50 Million for 2012.

This 64 page report, “Assessment and Overview of the World Market for Time Synchronization in Electric Power Substations: A Utility and Industry Survey-Based Report on Precision Timing Requirements” is now available for $975.00 on our reports page. Samples from the report are available.

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Newest Report: Utility Data Communications Market Study in 3 Volumes

Despite economic uncertainty, Outlook for Investment on Utility Telecommunications Upgrades during 2012-2014 remains positive, influenced by a new generation of field automation applications and advanced metering.

Study Finds Growth in Wireless Investment to Outpace Increases in Wireline Data Communications Over Near-Term and Mid-Term

Slow Rulings Related to Rate Restructuring and Real-Time Pricing Initiatives Viewed as Holding Back Some Near-Term Investment in Electric Utility Communications Upgrades.

JANUARY 3, 2011 ELLICOTT CITY, MD – Newton-Evans Research Company, Inc. announced completion of a three-volume report series focusing on data communications in the electric power industry. Survey findings from over 100 electric utilities worldwide indicate:

1) 88% of utility respondents agree that open protocols provide a degree of protection from premature obsolescence of products, but 58% of indicated they have experienced products that are supposedly standardized/open/interoperable which have not functioned as expected or promised by the vendor.

2) Only 11% of all respondents think that the use of synchrophasor technology will be a main driver in Smart Grid communications requirements, and 10% believe that synchrophasors will be the catalyst to adopt IEC standard 61850. (However, 48% said they were “neutral” regarding either statement.)

3) When asked, “What are some of the key data communications issues facing your utility?” responses to this question ranged from “Cost,” “Reliability,” and “Security” (the three most frequently mentioned) to other issues like technology obsolescence, bandwidth, interoperability, lack of standardization, spectrum availability, NERC CIP compliance, latency, terrain-topography , and scalability. See the accompanying illustration.

4) A follow up question to this was, “What do vendors need to do to address these issues?”. The most frequently identifiable sentiment could be paraphrased as, “Be more attentive to Utility requirements, communicate more, work together.” This was followed by comments mentioning “Standardization.” It is clear from this feedback that utilities expect increased cooperation from their communications equipment suppliers and services providers than they may have experienced to date. On the other hand, if vendors need to adapt their solutions and tailor their products and services to fit the situational needs of varying utility profiles, then they have their work cut out for them. Collaborative research and development may provide a feasible compromise solution.

Volume One of the three volume study includes detailed survey findings on grid operational telecommunications usage patterns and plans from over 100 electric utilities in 24 countries.
Volume Two contains profiles for 22 of the leading communications solutions providers and includes more than 30 smart grid communications-centric project summaries from around the world. Volume Three provides an in-depth assessment and outlook for the smart grid telecommunications market and summary of key market influences.

Level 1 – Reliability, Cost, Security
Level 2 – Bandwidth, Spectrum, Staffing
Level 3 – Protocols, Interoperability, Migration Paths
Level 4 – Obsolescence, NERC CIP, Carrier Limitations, Standards

Additional information on the three volume study Global Study of Data Communications Usage Patterns and Plans in the Electric Power Industry: 2011-2015 is available from Newton-Evans Research Company, 10176 Baltimore National Pike, Suite 204, Ellicott City, Maryland 21042. Phone 1-410-465-7316 or visit to access the report brochure. The three-volume report is priced at $3,750.00 and can be ordered and downloaded online. Khrissy Newton can also be reached at to provide any additional information regarding the new report series.