Navigant Research Blog

5G Closer than You Think – or Is It?

— February 8, 2016

Network switch and UTP ethernet cablesIn the world of high tech trends, fifth-generation, or 5G, wireless networks can be seen as the new Internet of Things (IoT), full of early hype but still a ways off. In the case of 5G, quite a ways off. Recent rumblings from major players point to 5G networks being deployed before the end of this decade, which could have important consequences for utilities and for connecting energy-saving devices in smarter homes. But this still feels like a hype train, even if some stakeholders are trying to play down all the excitement.

The notion of 5G got a fresh boost at (where else?) Consumer Electrics Show (CES) in early January. Telecommunications equipment giant Ericsson showcased a 5G system at the show, with current data transfer rates of up to 5 gigabits per second and with the expectation that this rate will increase to up to 10 gigabits per second in the near future. The company and carrier partner TeliaSonera have since announced plans to launch limited 5G networks in Sweden and Estonia in 2018.

Similarly, AT&T has discussed 5G with U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) officials. The network provider presented its vision to the FCC, outlining its architectural concepts for 5G technology, including a multi-radio access approach to support extremely high-speed mobile broadband along with low-speed IoT. To his credit , Glenn Lurie, president and CEO of AT&T Mobility, has downplayed the hype and said the company doesn’t want to overpromise and underdeliver on 5G technology.

Last fall, Verizon unveiled its 5G roadmap, noting it was accelerating the expected rate of innovation and that the technology would likely be introduced in the U.S. market sometime after 2020. Verizon also said it was committed to starting 5G field trials in 2016 along with partners Alcatel-Lucent (now combined with Nokia), Cisco, Ericsson, Qualcomm, and Samsung.

Specifics Still in Flux

With all this fuss, it is important to note that 5G is still not fully baked. The standard has yet to be written. Here are some basic specifications, courtesy of the TelecomEngine website:

  • Intended to handle data from more than 100 billion devices, which will require an increase of several thousand times the capacity of today’s networks
  • End-user data rates of at least 10 Gbps, with generally available rates of at least 100 Mbps, which will require substantially new levels of network capacity and robustness
  • A minimum end-to-end latency of 5 milliseconds, with 1 millisecond of latency when necessary, which will require the installation of a number of small cells at communication end-points
  • One-tenth the energy consumption compared with 2010 levels

5G networks are no doubt the future; applications for utilities, smart cities initiatives, and smarter homes could one day be the beneficiaries. But, as my colleague Richelle Elberg has pointed out, utilities are still relying on older networking technologies and are likely to do so for a number of years. The reality: We are going to live in a 4G—even 3G—world for a while. For now, most companies and individuals can relegate 5G to the fringes of their thinking.

 

Washington, D.C., the Future of Buildings

— February 4, 2016

modern square and skyscrapersWashington, D.C. is fast becoming the hub of smart building innovation. According to the U.S. Green Building Council’s Annual Top 10 States for LEED Green Building report, the region has been described as the epicenter of green building. Indeed, if Washington, D.C. were a state (which it should be), it would have the highest per capita LEED-certified gross square footage of any state—19.3 (compared to 3.4 in Illinois, for example). Of course, some say Washington, D.C. should never be compared to a state. Yet the city only trails 5 states in total LEED-certified floor space.

One path to greener buildings is through more intelligent buildings. When the systems that run buildings are better able to sense and react to real-world conditions, they are able to use less energy and create a healthier, more comfortable environment. This has translated into the steady expansion of sensors and controls that connect to each other and to the Internet—see Navigant Research’s Internet of Things (IoT) for Residential Customers report for a more in-depth view. Though better connected buildings solve some problems, increased Internet connectivity can create substantial cyber security threats.

To Security and Beyond

Historically, buildings systems—such as lighting, HVAC, and security and access controls—have existed on their own isolated networks. Integrating them together not only provides opportunities for efficiencies in management, it also creates a rich source of data for analytics and optimization. To accomplish that, these once-isolated networks need to connect to the Internet.

On the face of it, there doesn’t seem to be a threat for anything more than a nuisance. What is the problem if someone alters the temperature in a building? The problem is that once a device on a building network is compromised, it can be used as a point of attack for other devices on the network. As a result, the increased convergence of building systems and IT systems can leave companies’ entire IT systems vulnerable to attacks routed through building systems.

Though these cyber vulnerabilities threaten intelligent buildings themselves, they may not threaten Washington’s reign over smart building installations. Washington, D.C. could see $1 billion in cyber venture funding in 2016. As industries that rely on things connected to the Internet—such as robotics, the IoT, and intelligent buildings—continue to flourish, the need for advanced security will drive investment.

 

Utilities Embrace Innovation at EUW, but Struggle with Culture

— November 25, 2015

There was a palpable buzz at European Utility Week in early November centered around change, innovation, and outsiders. For instance, one of the crowded presentations I witnessed was Neil Pennington’s talk about smart thermostats. Dr. Pennington, the director of innovation for RWE npower in the United Kingdom, noted that smart thermostats are a logical first step, but utilities should consider going beyond these devices and offer products and services that are highly personalized, connected, and automated. Move outside the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system, he says, and think about home security and customer lifestyles if you want to succeed as an innovator.

Pennington’s message was effective. It generated some enthusiastic questions, and people in the audience were hungry for insights into how to engage customers in new and effective ways.

Other vendors and presenters at this trade show, which set records for attendance (some 9,000 visitors from 77 countries), offered similar stories about innovation and change. Joris Jonker, one of the founders of residential energy management company Quby, told me his company’s offering was gaining traction as a dashboard for the home, and that Netherlands-based utility Eneco would be installing 1 million units over 2 years. Indeed, Eneco has embraced Quby’s solution so much that it acquired the firm just ahead of the trade show. Eneco’s move demonstrates it is no longer business as usual for some utilities.

Other discussions included the outsiders, or non-utility companies like Google (or Alphabet, Google’s parent company), and how these firms might alter the utility game. Might Google, or perhaps Apple, or an unknown startup move aggressively with a customer-centric and data-driven business model to disrupt the utility status quo? Possibly, but others were not so sure, saying it would be hard to disrupt the incumbents, especially for smaller players. Still, the question about potential disruption sparked debate.

Beyond these change and innovation issues, several other themes played out at the show. The smart cities concept is gaining wider attention (as my colleague Eric Woods so aptly demonstrated in sessions he moderated), with companies like Itron and Sensus touting their capabilities in this area. And, of course, the Internet of Things (IoT) concept seemed to be on just about everyone’s lips. In that vein, one company that stood out was Sigfox, a French firm promoting its unique cellular communications technology that is designed for low-throughput connectivity among IoT devices. Very buzzy.

But for all the talk about innovation and change, there was an interesting poll conducted among attendees that revealed an Achilles heel for the utility business: an ongoing lack of innovation. The poll asked “What is the biggest threat to the utilities?” The results of the unscientific survey among about 400 people were:

  • Falling/flat demand: 6%
  • Revenue loss/distributed solar: 12%
  • Challenge Renewable/Integration: 12%
  • Regulatory/Policy uncertainty: 23%
  • Lack of “innovation culture”: 46%

So a key takeaway for me from the Vienna conference was that while there is a welcome mat set out for change and plenty of talk, true innovation is still some ways off. And the staid utility culture in Europe is ripe for a shake-up, internally, externally, or from both perspectives.

 

The Future Workspace: Intelligent Building Platforms and Employee Engagement

— November 11, 2015

Boatbuilder_webThe proliferation of smart phones and the pervasive use of smart phone apps in the workplace have created new opportunities for occupant engagement. Beyond comfort, smart phones also generate economic and business benefits toward building operations.

Advanced sensors, wireless gateways and communications, and building energy management systems (BEMS) have already made the smart office a reality. These technologies give building owners and operators unprecedented insight into equipment performance, space utilization, and occupant feedback. Because of this, intelligent buildings can leverage ever growing data sets to become dynamic workspaces. Buildings are now more energy efficient and productive than traditional office buildings ever have been—and they are also more comfortable.

Smart Offices

Information technology platforms in intelligent buildings can fine-tune everything from heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) to lighting to conference room scheduling. Technology innovations such as the Internet of Things (IoT) that enable these advances in operational performance leverage open systems that integrate automation hardware, software, and services. The IoT is an infrastructure for aggregating, transmitting, and analyzing data streams while ensuring cyber security and delivering domain-specific insights. The IoT is a potentially disruptive market force because the framework unifies data that has been historically isolated to generate comprehensive information about related systems.

In the intelligent buildings context, the IoT provides a structure to generate and share actionable insights for system improvement, which may take the form of fine-tuned lighting or HVAC settings. IoT platforms are scalable and secure to support software analytics that identify potential improvements for energy savings, operational efficiencies, and increased occupant satisfaction. Using these IoT platforms, intelligent building decision-makers can access more unified and comprehensive information about the performance of their individual facilities or portfolios.

This platform approach has changed the paradigm for building operations and maintenance in intelligent buildings. Cost-effective sensing devices gather granular building data ranging from equipment settings and performance to temperature and humidity. Wireless networks and open protocols can then transfer this data into a cloud-based BEMS that runs the analytics to prioritize system improvements. In some cases, a BEMS can push automated adjustments to building systems.

Accessing data and providing actionable insight in real time enables advanced management strategies that include predictive maintenance, proactive capital planning, and rapid response to occupant feedback. These processes provide greater efficiency and reduction in peak demand charges, so building system performance can be optimized and yield economic benefits in the form of reduced energy bills.

Intelligent Building Innovations

The process of transforming a facility into an intelligent building is scalable and cost-effective—and a different business engagement from the traditional equipment overhaul or deep renovation. Developing an intelligent building means gaining insight into its existing systems, improving their performance, and leveraging IT-based, cost-effective solutions to supplement the existing infrastructure.

One pioneering concept in the intelligent building space is using people as sensors. An example is Comfy, designed by Building Robotics. Comfy connects existing HVAC systems in office buildings to the cloud through Intel-based intelligent gateways. The system utilizes feedback from individual occupants through a simple smart phone app that analyzes the comfort levels in an office and then refines HVAC settings to optimize the workplace environment. This new approach to occupant comfort is changing the intelligent building workplace.

For a deeper exploration of this topic, tune in on November 17 at 2:00 p.m. EST for Navigant Research’s webinar Smart Offices: How Intelligent Building Solutions Are Changing the Occupant Experience. Joining me will be Shuo Zhang, Business Development Manager at Intel, and Andrew Krioukov, CEO of Building Robotics, who will give insight into how intelligent gateways and smart phone apps are transforming the smart office.

 

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