Industrial Automation

MPLS-TP or IP/MPLS Networking Protocol: Which Is Best for Your Utility?

Davy Haegdorens
There are two packet-based networking protocols that many utilities consider: MPLS-TP and IP/MPLS. Our blog helps you understand the differences so you can select the right option for your network. 


Uptime is essential in many industries, but power transmission and distribution companies are in a category all their own when it comes to demand and reliability.


Because power is vital to the way we live and work, power plants and facilities are the very definition of “mission critical.” Without power, you don’t have business, healthcare, education, communication, connectivity, transportation, water treatment, emergency response … the list goes on and on.


Every day, power plants work to provide reliable power at a reasonable cost, despite constant battles that stand in the way, from equipment failure to cyberattacks.


The shift from TDM to packet-based networks

A resilient backbone network and the ability to prevent a single point of failure are key to keeping power plants operational. Providing reliable power can only be achieved with network equipment designed to minimize downtime and withstand service interruptions. What works to keep conventional companies running doesn’t provide the same results for a mission-critical utility network.


As power plants and facilities become more intelligent, however, the communications protocols used by modern smart grids and digital substations can’t be carried efficiently over TDM-based (time-division multiplexing) networks—which many utilities rely on for backbone technology.


As these TDM-based networks reach end of life, it’s becoming more difficult to find the components necessary to keep the systems running. For this reason, migration from TDM to packet-based network technology is inevitable for utilities.


Packet-based technology provides a more efficient use of fiber bandwidth capacity, especially for Ethernet-based applications.


Two packet-based technologies to consider: MPLS-TP and IP/MPLS

There are two packet-based networking protocols that many utilities consider: MPLS-TP and IP/MPLS. It’s important to understand the differences so you can select the right option for your utility network.


Both technologies are based on MPLS (multi-protocol label switching) networking protocols. MPLS is a connection-oriented communication protocol defined by IETF (Internet Engineering Task Force) in RFC 3031 to improve the performance of packet-based networks.


What is IP/MPLS?

IP/MPLS is an established networking protocol technology that was developed to address certain limitations in IP-routed networks. IP/MPLS combines the capabilities of IP routing and MPLS and is standardized by IETF.


When IT decision-makers are involved in the selection process, they often lean toward IP/MPLS because of its dynamic behavior. IP/MPLS is a good fit for core networks and large backbone networks, such as ISPs, where large amounts of data must be switched, and the flexibility of any-to any connections is required.


When it comes to transport networks, like the backbone in utility networks, however, IP/MPLS networking protocol doesn’t scale as well. These OT networks are relatively small, static networks that require being in control. In transport networks, performance is key. The processing overhead introduced by this dynamic behavior is a costly burden and leads to more complexity when it comes to configuration and management of critical services.


Furthermore, IP/MPLS technology lacks the presence of an NMS (network management system), which leads to a very labor-intensive process to configure individual nodes. This creates significant network maintenance and troubleshooting issues that, based on in-house knowledge levels, must often involve third parties.


What is MPLS-TP?

Similar to IP/MPLS, MPLS-TP networking protocol, defined in RFC 5317, is based on MPLS technology and optimized for mission-critical networks. It enables packet transport services with the predictability and reliability found in existing transport networks. It’s defined by ITU-T and IETF to specifically address the needs of OT networks that IP/MPLS can’t manage.


Instead of running unwanted dynamic protocols, MPLS-TP incorporates the key requirements of an OT network:

  • In-band OAM (operations, administration and maintenance)
  • Static configuration
  • Bidirectional forwarding

For these reasons, MPLS-TP is the most deployed packet-based technology in utility networks today.


Why MPLS-TP is better for mission-critical utility networks

MPLS-TP networking protocol offers many benefits over IP/MPLS as a complete backbone network solution that addresses the needs and requirements of utility networks.


It provides a robust and reliable framework for utility network solutions and aligns with the strict operational, efficiency and reliability requirements that utility companies demand.


Our experts put together a valuable whitepaper that outlines specific 10 ways in which MPLS-TP supports the demands of mission-critical utility networks.



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