Future bandwidth, spectrum and security requirements for DNOs

With the increasing penetration of low carbon technologies, DNOs increasingly rely on secure and resilient communications. Wireless technologies provide cost-effective solutions for utilities in many areas, but require access to radio spectrum for utilities to deploy their own solutions.

As part of its current work programme, Ofcom is reviewing the role of spectrum in supporting energy distribution networks to meet Government targets on carbon neutrality and manage new distribution models. However, given the high demand for spectrum from other sectors, the utilities sector requires strong evidence to drive their input into Ofcom’s future work in allocation of spectrum.

The PNDC has implemented a communication test bed to investigate and evidence the bandwidth required by industry standard secure communications protocols, such as IPsec, when used in conjunction with wireless networks, and establish requirements for communications based on real-world equipment. In particular, the test bed was used to assess the overhead added when implementing different security approaches, quantify the future bandwidth requirements under a number of different scenarios, and help utilities to make the strongest case possible for access to the spectrum they will require in the future to enable low carbon networks of the future.



We have provided new insight on the bandwidth necessary to support future smart grid applications, and in particular the additional bandwidth required by different security approaches. For example, while the literature suggests the security overhead introduced by IPsec is around 10%, our testing on utility scenarios demonstrate a real-world overhead of 25%, which means that the additional bandwidth is higher and this should be considered in the design of future communication infrastructure.

The testing results have also provided insights on the performance of current communication technologies when considering the medium and long terms needs for the UK DNOs. This is essential given the necessity to support legacy communication protocols within the network for many years to come.

These results are particularly significant for utilities’ submissions to Ofcom. Having technically evidenced requirements that justify specific spectrum requests helps to support the case for the utilities sector’s need. As a regulator, Ofcom is evidence-focused, and the PNDC has supported members by generating this technical evidence.

Finally, the research has highlighted that private communication networks are one of the best options to meet the current and future communication needs of DNOs, given their particular Quality of Service requirements, helping to justify the request to Ofcom.



The results from PNDC research are informing the strategic discussion on future spectrum policies led by Ofcom and the UK DNOs. The impact of this research and testing work has two main elements:

1. Informing spectrum policy. This project’s outputs provide evidence that will be used in collaboration with JRC to present a case to Ofcom for the provision of spectrum to support future utility network requirements. PNDC is also working with EUTC on a European level and through them 3GPP to influence standards to support utilities verticals.

2. Informing communication network specifications. PNDC has developed new insights providing clarity on the performance of new communication technologies and their bandwidth requirements. This will help optimise the specification of future substation communication systems to ensure longevity and other constraints are understood, thereby reducing investment risk and maximising return on investment.

Working with PNDC brings a unique perspective to the future operational systems characteristics of Energy Networks. In particular, recent activity has been very useful in validating the spectrum needs for future ‘Smart Grid’ solutions.

Dr Peter Couch

What’s next?

The key findings from the testing performed at the PNDC is being disseminated to the PNDC members, the wider utilities community, and Ofgem/Ofcom, and has informed strategic discussions on the future bandwidth and spectrum requirements for power utilities. PNDC has hosted Ofcom along with members to demonstrate and discuss these results, and show key regulatory stakeholders first-hand the requirements of power networks. PNDC has also engaged with Ofcom through their own work planning programme to introduce members to Ofcom enhance their understanding of the importance of utilities, and made introductions.

The collaboration with JRC is continuing and will extend to related areas, while engagement with the regulators (Ofgem and Ofcom) on spectrum policy-related issues in collaboration with ENA and EUTC is active and will continue in the following 2-3 years. Opportunities for further demonstrations on specific scenarios are being pursued in order help Ofcom finalise decisions on spectrum policy.

Finally, the PNDC will continue to support the industrial stakeholders demonstrating the deployment of new communication infrastructure optimised for sector requirements, supporting the evaluation of technology options and de-risking system integration.


Bandwidth and Security Requirements for Smart Grid
Kinan Ghanem; Rameez Asif; Stephen Ugwuanyi; James Irvine.
2020 IEEE PES Innovative Smart Grid Technologies Europe (ISGT-Europe), The Hague, Netherlands, 2020, pp. 36-40, doi: 10.1109/ISGT-Europe47291.2020.9248932.

Delivering the smart grid with bandwidth for the future
Kinan Ghanem.
Published 2019, NETWORK.

Delivering the smart grid with bandwidth for the future
Kinan Ghanem.
Full project report issued to PNDC members in February 2020. Please contact us to request a copy.

Key stakeholders:

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