Critical Infrastructure: Why Telecom Is Taking a Renewed Interest in the Utility Sector
It’s an industry that’s facing a transition from TDM to IP, along with increasing fears that its networks could be disabled by security breaches. Yet its organizational cultures are lethargic, with philosophies toward infrastructure spending that could best be described as intensely thrifty, and it’s highly regulated, so it’s not under much competitive pressure to change.
What industry are we talking about?
It’s the electric power industry (though don’t feel bad if you thought we were talking about the telecom operators…).
Even though telecom’s evolution from TDM to IP networking is for the most part a done deal, telecom has been through, and still is dealing with, some of the same factors, such as ever-increasing security threats against its infrastructure. And as we’ve seen in telecom, many of the issues mentioned above create an environment ripe for network investment.
Those challenges aren’t limited to the electric power and telecom sectors, of course. Some of those issues (particularly the security threats) could be applied to a number of other verticals — think oil and gas, water utilities, transportation infrastructures, public safety, homeland security — that more broadly constitute the critical infrastructure sector, comprising companies and organizations that can’t rely on third party communications infrastructure and need to build and run their own networks.
Put it all together and that sector just might represent the next great market opportunity, worth billions of dollars each year in potential sales, for a wide array of telecom industry vendors that have the communications connectivity and security technology expertise to help critical infrastructure operators modernize and protect their networks. (See A Critical Time for Critical Infrastructure.)
Among that group of verticals, the electric power companies may represent the largest and most immediate target: In North America alone, there are thousands of electric utilities of all sizes. “In the US there are more than 4,500 utilities, some of them quite large, but others small cooperatives or municipal operations” says Amir Barnea, head of RAD Data’s Critical Infrastructure Line of Business. “In Europe, where transmission and distribution of power are separated by regulation, there are about 200 distribution companies and 50 transmission companies.”