Very soon, we will be inhabiting a community where autonomous vehicles are the norm, dynamic traffic controls are redirecting vehicles, drones are inspecting bridges, and internet of things (IoT) sensors are analyzing water levels. This shift will be driven by 5G networks, but its impact on multiple industries, including utilities, will extend beyond telecommunications. In Utilities, 5G will reimagine business models, enhance operational efficiency, and more. Besides, the advent of 5G will give more power to the prosumer—consumers who are energy producers—to create their own energy products and make their own choices. Let us see how.
The multiplier effect of 5G and other digital technologies
In moving from a centralized to a decentralized architecture by adopting millions of connected smart devices, the utilities industry has an increasing need for low-latency real-time information transfer. With 5G and digital technologies come an increased capacity of handling large data volumes. This will allow utilities to improve field worker productivity using augmented reality and enable remote operations of assets. Besides, increased speed, lower latency, and higher reliability mean better connectivity for IoT devices. This will allow utilities to use smart wearables to ensure field worker safety along with a faster transition to smart grids and smart cities.
Adapting to the 5G revolution
Utility firms are adopting best-fit use cases to capitalize on the fast-approaching 5G. Meanwhile, we also see this as a significant opportunity for utilities to build their own network rather than buying one. A recent survey by global trade association Utilities Technology Council (UTC) found that three-fourth of utilities in the US own over 80% of their networks and want to build their own 5G connectivity. For instance, Duke Energy is currently considering to create its own private broadband LTE system, while New York Power Authority (NYPA) has piloted its own private wireless LTE network. In another instance of a utility adopting 5G, Icomera, a subsidiary of clean energy company ENGIE Solutions, completed the trial of the world’s first 5G-enabled router on a train route in Sweden in 2020.
A phased approach to 5G adoption
The US will account for an estimated 50% of the total 5G mobile subscriptions by 2025, while Europe will be 29%. In this race to maximize 5G adoption, the utilities industry will play a central role by sharing existing infrastructure with 5G networks and driving consumption at the edge, even in remote communities. To get on board the 5G journey, utilities need to strategize and phase their approach, to gain incremental benefits from the transformation:
Operations: Use cases fundamental to the day-to-day operations of utilities, such as smart wearables for field workers and better collaboration tools.
Transformation: Use cases that transform the way utilities operate, such as connected homes, AR for the field workforce, and more.
Reimagination: Use cases at the intersection of different industries involve transitioning from a product-centric approach (like electricity, gas, water, etc.) to a theme-centric one such as smart homes, smart transportation, and more.
Successful implementation of 5G use cases in utilities
The first step in rolling out 5G is scaling the infrastructure to support fast bandwidth speeds. Collaboration with enterprises across industries is the next step on the 5G journey for utilities, and with this, comes the need to identify and collaborate with the right technology partners. Adopting intelligent and secure communication frameworks will push utilities to the forefront of increased collaboration between governments, mobile network operators (MNOs), prosumers, and other stakeholders.