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

 

Washington—March 12, 2019 – UTC and its global affiliates released 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 across the globe confront 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 seeks to present the issues facing utilities and interested stakeholders as they determine what is possible in a 5G world, and what is simply hype.

“This paper helps level-set utilities as the hype around all things ‘5G’ dominates the global telecommunications landscape,” said UTC President and CEO Joy Ditto. “In spite of all we hear about the ‘Race to 5G,’ this report makes clear that while the impact of 5G wireless service could be profound, it is years away from being widely deployed. This paper demonstrates that there are many policy questions and uncertainties surrounding the kinds of devices and density needed to widely deploy 5G services. At the same time, there are opportunities for utilities to use 5G technologies for some operational enhancement and potentially to partner in terms of joint use of infrastructure, if done right. We will be paying close attention both in the U.S. and globally as these challenges persist.”

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 Power 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.

Utilities could provide suitable sites, power supply, and backhaul capacity for 5G devices and services, the report concludes, assuming appropriate safety, reliability, and cost considerations are carefully considered.

Additionally, as 5G is not likely going to be deployed in rural areas, some rural utilities could decide to construct their own 5G networks and serve these areas, the paper said. A number of rural utilities in the U.S. are already providing broadband to their customers, the paper notes, and adding 5G services is a possibility.

“Justifying the granularity of 5G infrastructure may become a social issue because of the sheer cost of the density of infrastructure needed,” the paper said. “Potential revenues in low population density areas (i.e., rural) will not support the required investment by conventional mobile carriers. However, in the same way as rural broadband has become a potentially attractive opportunity for some electric utilities, deploying 5G radio networks in areas which might not otherwise be served may be a beneficial service enhancement for power utilities, especially where the utility already has fiber connectivity.”
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About UTC
The Utilities Technology Council (UTC) is a global trade association dedicated to serving critical infrastructure providers. Through advocacy, education and collaboration, UTC creates a favorable business, regulatory and technology environment for our members who own or operate Information and Communication Technology (ICT) systems in support of their core business. For more information: UTC.org