New Delhi

Telecom service providers (TSPs) through Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) has written to the government to immediately recommend to the Power Ministry to use the licensed spectrum bands and the infrastructure created under the telecom license for smart grid meters.

The industry body said use of low power equipment in the frequency band 865-868 MHz for short range devices should be licensed, like any other radio frequency in telecom.

“We wish to draw your kind attention on one of the serious issues which has the long-term adverse implications on the acceleration of the critical infrastructure i.e, smart grid deployment under National Smart Grid Mission,” SP Kochhar, Director General, COAI wrote in a letter to K Rajaraman, Chairman Digital Communication Commission (DCC) and Telecom Secretary, Department of Telecommunications (DoT).

Currently, DoT has permitted the use of 865-868 MHz for “Tracking, Tracing and Data Acquisition Devices” and “Radio Frequency Identification Applications” without acquiring a license.

Security compromised

“We firmly believe that allowing unlicensed frequency bands for deploying a critical application like Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) at a wider scale will seriously compromise the security of the critical infrastructure apart from leading huge revenue loss to the government,” Kochhar wrote in the letter dated March 10.

Thus, such a critical application/ infrastructure should be created only by the telecom companies under their license and over the licensed spectrum as the lack of security checks and balances for unlicensed spectrum can make AMI vulnerable. On the top of that, the lack of testing and monitoring will make these systems much more prone to vulnerabilities, threats and cyber-intrusions, he further said.

“RF mesh networks in unlicensed spectrum have limited security built for data and signalling in contrast with the equipment deployed by licensed TSPs. On the contrary, all devices and equipment provided by licensed TSPs have to be approved as part of ‘Trusted Devices’,” Kochhar further said.

Human errors

He said deploying large scale AMI with unlicensed spectrum can disrupt operations of public infrastructure as this infrastructure will rely on unlicensed spectrum and equipment with limited or no security, external persons or agencies may get central access to the control centre as well as databases required for operation of the smart grid via security infringement.

They can severely disrupt the operations of public utility infrastructure with the intent to harm. On the other hand, as this system will not have stringent compliance or monitoring requirements, human errors or internal incidents can also result in such failure along with major accountability issues.

Therefore, given the mission critical nature of AMI or smart grid at such a country-wide large-scale deployment, it is imperative that communication technologies chosen for these projects should be robust, scalable, and secure. It also needs to be ensured that standard technology is adopted based on a globally established roadmap and proven support for interoperability, so that there is no harmful interference to the adjacent licensed band operations, he added.