RTE deal exemplary of burgeoning utility market, says ECI Telecom

JANUARY 27, 2009 By Stephen Hardy -- ECI Telecom has announced a deal with RTE, the French national utility company, for a communications project work multiple millions of dollars. The project, which will enable RTE to transport mission-critical applications and service information within its high-voltage power environment, is typical of a growing applications space, says an ECI source.

JANUARY 27, 2009 By Stephen Hardy -- ECI Telecom (search for ECI Telecom) has announced a deal with RTE, the French national utility company, for a communications project work multiple millions of dollars. The project, which will enable RTE to transport mission-critical applications and service information within its high-voltage power environment, is typical of a growing applications space, says an ECI source.

Marcelo Blatt, director of solutions marketing at ECI Telecom, estimates the power utilities market was worth $1.5 billion last year and should grow to $2 billion by 2010. While utilities have received attention for buying communications equipment to offer phone and related services to their customers, RTE and similar major utility companies are also buying optical communications gear for their internal use, particularly as they implement "smart grid" features that enhance power system protection and advanced control and monitoring.

Because of the wide variety of protocols required -- not only Ethernet, PDH, SDH, and SONET, but SCADA -- multiservice provisioning platforms (MSPPs) can play a key role in such networks, Blatt says. To more properly serve the utility space, ECI Telecom has developed SCADA options for its BroadGate and XDM platforms. For example, RTE will use the BroadGate system to provide real-time support for the operation, maintenance, and development of approximately 100,000 km of high and extra-high voltage lines and 36 cross-border lines. The utility operates approximately 15,000 km of fiber in its control network; Blatt estimates that his company will need to provide "hundreds" of network elements to meet RTE's requirements.

"ECI's ability to support low-speed, legacy applications, together with the scalability necessary to sustain future services in a power operational environment, provided us with the optimal solution for our nationwide network deployment," Gérard Pellerin, operation and control director of RTE, was quoted as saying in a press release.

Blatt describes the typical utility control network as a series of concentric rings. While the number of nodes in a typical network is large, the capacity required generally is less than that of a typical telecommunications carrier's network -- although the use of 10-Gbps interfaces is not unheard of. While the use of Ethernet is growing, Blatt says that utilities generally prefer their teleprotection services to remain TDM based. Therefore, the utility control space hasn't seen the headlong rush towards Ethernet convergence experienced in the telco world.

While the utility control market is global in scope, ECI Telecom has focused mainly on Europe, Asia (particularly China), and Latin America. RTE is one of more than 60 customers ECI has in the space, Blatt asserts.

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