March 11, 2019

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New UTC Paper Seeks to Cut Through 5G ‘Hype’ for Utilities

UTC and its global affiliates are proud to release a new white paper focusing on the emergence of 5G communications and whether and how utilities—particularly electric—will be impacted.

The new white paper—“Cutting Through the Hype: 5G and Its Potential Impacts on Electric Utilities”—frames the numerous issues and challenges electric utilities face in adapting as the wireless industry transitions to 5G services. The paper was authored by the Joint Radio Company Ltd. of Coventry, England and was commissioned by UTC and its global affiliates: Africa UTC, European UTC, and UTC America Latina.

Importantly, the paper does not offer policy proposals or a comprehensive plan forward; rather, it is an effort to level-set utilities and interested stakeholders as they determine what is possible in a 5G world, and what is simply hype.

One challenge facing utilities and, indeed, policymakers in general, is the lack of a common understanding of what 5G is and the kinds of services it could enable, according to the paper.

“5G is the next generation of mobile broadband that will eventually encompass all mobile connectivity. If we are to believe the hype, with 5G, we will see exponentially faster download and upload speeds; latency – the time it takes devices to communicate with each other – will also dramatically decrease and the density of connections will be massive,” according to the paper.

The paper provides background and history around the transition to 5G from a global perspective. It discusses potential spectrum bands for 5G usage and notes a few challenges—including the need for density in deploying the appropriate devices to make 5G work in particular areas.

Whether utilities will be able to use 5G for their own communications needs remains to be seen, the paper concludes. Many utilities operate their own private communications networks to underpin the reliability and safe delivery of their essential services to customers all over the world. These networks provide situational awareness, efficiencies, and enable greater deployment of distributed energy resources throughout a utility’s infrastructure.

Because 5G networks, at least initially, are likely to be built in densely populated areas, utilities will have to integrate any 5G services into larger networks built under previous generations of wireless services, the paper says. Additionally, utilities—like any other critical-infrastructure industry—would want to operate their own 5G network and not rely on commercial carriers.

“If the vision of industrial and factory automation is realized, a whole factory or industrial process would not want its critical telecommunications dependent on a service delivered by a remote third-party telecommunications network but would want to own and possibly operate its own private (non-carrier provided) 5G networks,” the paper says. “Indeed, as the market develops, if 5G becomes as indispensable as forecast, it is likely that venues such as airports, shopping malls and sports stadia will want to own the 5G networks on their premises.”

The paper highlights a number of policy challenges related to 5G deployment, including the following:

  • Base Station Sites: 5G will require many more base station sites, one order of magnitude or more possibly. Finding suitable sites will be a major challenge.
  • Backhaul: Creating base stations with multiple antennas and multi-frequency bands has created the requirement for gigabit backhaul which many existing sites have not been able to accommodate. Ideally, 5G sites will have fiber backhaul, but connectivity with backhaul fiber for the dense network of base stations envisaged for small 5G cells is likely to be expensive, especially in areas not already well served by fiber.
  • Electricity Supply: The vast number of small radio sites envisaged will require electricity supply. The cost of installing and maintaining these power sources reliably may create a significant overhead cost.
  • Power Consumption: The power consumption of individual base stations must be reduced by an order of magnitude just to keep costs level if the number of base stations increases as predicted.
  • Security: Cybersecurity is frequently raised as a major issue for 5G networks, particularly related to equipment vendors, although it is not clear that 5G will be any more vulnerable than previous generations of mobile networks.

Please contact the UTC Public Policy Team with any questions.

FCC Seeks Nominees for New Panel on Broadband Investment in Low-Income Areas

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC, the Commission) is seeking nominations for participation in a working group aimed at increasing broadband investment in low-income communities.

According to notice released last week, the “Increasing Broadband Investment in Low-Income Communities Working Group” will assist the Commission’s Broadband Deployment Advisory Council (BDAC) in providing advice and recommendations to the Commission on new ways to encourage the deployment of high-speed broadband infrastructure and services to low-income communities (GN Docket No. 17-83).

Nominations for membership on the new working group are due to the FCC no later than March 19, 2019. Nominees for membership on the BDAC need not reapply. The Commission will automatically consider these existing nominees both for membership on the BDAC and for membership on the new working group.

The new working group will be charged with making recommendations on additional measures, other than the provision of universal service funds, that can be taken at the federal, state, and local government levels to accelerate investment in the deployment of high-speed fixed and mobile broadband services to low-income areas, as well as strategies to increase adoption and use of broadband services in low-income communities.

Many rural electric utilities serve areas untouched by private telecommunications companies, including low-income areas.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai established the BDAC in January 2017; its charge is to propose federal, state and local policies as a means to accelerate broadband deployment. From the outset, the panel has been controversial over its telecommunications-industry heavy makeup, resulting in resignations and frustration over the course of 2018 (Industry Intelligence, Jan. 29, 2018).

Please contact the UTC Public Policy Team with any questions.

USDA Schedules Webinars to Review ReConnect Broadband Funding Opportunities

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) over the next two weeks is holding a slate of webinars for those interested in broadband funding opportunities under the agency’s ReConnect program.

USDA will hold two webinars next week—March 12 and March 14—and another on March 20 to review various elements of the ReConnect program, including eligibility requirements and comprehensive funding opportunities.

Information on the sessions and ReConnect program is available here: https://www.usda.gov/reconnect/events.

The ReConnect Program offers loans, grants, and loan/grant combinations to facilitate broadband deployment in areas of rural America without sufficient access to broadband.

  • The awards made under this program will bring high-speed broadband to rural areas that lack sufficient access to broadband.
  • The delivery of broadband connection and high-quality service will enable technologies critical to rural communities, such as precision agriculture.
  • The pilot program will fuel long-term economic development and opportunities in rural America.

Please contact the UTC Public Policy Team with any questions.

DOE Announces $100 Million in Small Business Innovation and Technology Funding

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) last week announced it is making hundreds of millions of dollars available for small businesses focused on energy and security research.

In an announcement, DOE said its Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs issued a funding opportunity for up to $100 million.

“Small businesses are the backbone of the American economy,” said U.S. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry. “Providing small businesses with greater opportunities to enhance science and technology research and development strengthens the economic security for our entire country.”

The following DOE program offices are participating in the FY 2019 Phase II Release 2 Funding Opportunity Announcement:

  • Office of Cybersecurity, Energy Security, and Emergency Response
  • Office of Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation
  • Office of Electricity
  • Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy
  • Office of Environmental Management
  • Office of Fossil Energy
  • Office of Fusion Energy Sciences
  • Office of High Energy Physics
  • Office of Nuclear Energy

Eligible small businesses that have previously received Phase I grants will be able to complete for Phase II grants with a duration of up to 2 years and maximum award amounts of $1,000,000 or $1,500,000, depending on research topic. Phase II grants allow businesses that conducted early stage feasibility research and development in Phase I to reduce their innovations to practice by developing working prototypes or new processes.

In addition, eligible small businesses that have received prior Phase II awards will be able to complete for second or third Phase II grants with a duration of up to two years and a maximum award amount of $1,100,000. Third Phase II awards are new this year and were authorized by Congress in the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019. More information on these awards is contained in the FOA and the program website.

Please contact the UTC Public Policy Team with any questions.

Upcoming Events

A snapshot of upcoming UTC webinars, events, and conference calls

  • March 12: UtiliSite Call—For more information, contact Bob Lockhart
  • March 19: Utilities Broadband Committee Call—For more information, contact Brett Kilbourne
  • March 15: Security, Risk, and Compliance Committee Webinar—For more information, contact Sharla Artz
  • March 20: IT/OT Committee Call—For more information, contact Bob Lockhart
  • March 21: Telecom Committee Call—For more information, contact Brett Kilbourne
  • March 21: Public Power Division Call—For more information, contact Sharla Artz
  • March 25-27: UTC Mid-Central: Click here
  • June 17-21, 2019: UTC Telecom & Technology