Drones use private LTE to monitor power lines

As the largest state public power organization in the U.S., New York Power Authority (NYPA) operates more than 1,400 circuit-miles of transmission lines. Live lines can now be inspected up-close by drone-mounted cameras connected to a private LTE network, the utility said recently. Currently, humans have to fly by the lines in order to inspect them. NYPA said its drone test also demonstrated that high-definition video and thermal imaging can be live-streamed from drones using private LTE. 

“It is extremely gratifying to see the progress of this drone test,” said Gil Quiniones, NYPA president and CEO. “The pilot program to install private LTE wireless technology across our generation and transmission network is integral to NYPA’s transition to becoming an end-to-end digital utility.” 

NYPA announced last fall that through a competitive bidding process it has partnered with Nokia to pilot private wireless LTE technology at its Blenheim-Gilboa pumped storage power project in New York’s Schoharie County.  The private LTE pilot program is part of NYPA’s larger digitization initiative, which also includes a communication backbone program that aims to replace the utility’s existing point-to-point circuits to manage the increased data flow from the deployment of intelligent sensors.

NYPA is using Nokia’s Digital Automation Cloud. This platform enables Nokia’s customers to host a core network on-premise and to integrate web interfaces and cloud-native applications. 

“These drone flights illustrate the power of the Nokia Digital Automation Cloud’s Private LTE wireless technology,” said Raghav Sahgal, president of Nokia Enterprise. “NYPA was able to operate the drone via the LTE connection and monitor the drone camera feed in real-time with dedicated bandwidth. There is no better demonstration of the value that private wireless networks bring to utilities and other industries than real-life use-cases such as this one.” 

Drone-mounted cameras are one of several use cases NYPA foresees for private LTE. The utility also wants to use private LTE for workforce mobility, metering services, analytics of customer energy consumption, Wi-Fi telephony, push-to-talk, secure communication during emergencies, data transport to support energy efficiency, and IoT applications. 

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Nokia is working with private spectrum providers on the project, including Anterix, the nation’s largest owner of 900 MHz spectrum. 

"With the help of the Anterix team and the support and collaboration of more than a dozen utilities across the nation with whom we have compared notes on LTE deployment, we are excited to pilot a range of use cases at 900 MHz,” said Quiniones. “We believe that collective action by the utility sector embracing private LTE will lead to a broader range of benefits both for utilities and our customers." 

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In addition to the tests in the 900 MHz spectrum supplied by Anterix, NYPA is also planning to trial private LTE with Nokia in 600 MHz spectrum supplied by Omega Wireless and with AT&T in 700 MHz (FirstNet) spectrum in Schoharie County.

The utility said that in parallel it will test private LTE at a lab in White Plains, New York. These tests will use 900 MHz spectrum, CBRS spectrum, and in Band 2.4 GHz spectrum supplied by GlobalStar.