Navigant Research Blog

When 5G Meets Smart Street Lighting

— October 25, 2017

It is increasingly recognized that street lights are valuable city assets that can enable various smart city services and Internet of Things (IoT) strategies. Navigant Research expects the installed base of smart street lights to reach nearly 73 million globally by 2026. One of the many elements connected to realizing the value of smart street lights is supporting the deployment of cellular networks and, in particular, future 5G networks.

What About 5G?

With the continued expansion of IoT, the number of mobile users and connected devices will increase. As subsequent data consumption increases, there will be increasing pressure on network capacity. This has the potential to cause latency problems and possibly dropped services with a detrimental effect on many IoT applications. The next generation of wireless networks will therefore need to handle more traffic at high speeds than today’s LTE networks. 5G is hailed as the solution to these and other challenges, and it promises to bring speeds 20 times faster than the current 4G networks and deliver data with less than a millisecond of delay. Telecommunications companies are aiming to commercialize 5G networks by 2020.

However, the downside of 5G networks is that cellular signals do not travel far and are easily blocked by objects. Therefore, in order to prevent signals from being dropped, 5G networks require many more base stations to relay the signals than the current 4G networks. Fortunately, small cell base stations can solve that problem. These small low power nodes can be easily attached to existing infrastructure such as street light poles and buildings. Given their ubiquity and connection to the electricity network, street light poles are viewed as a particularly effective and increasingly important means to improve the network coverage.

Convergence of Smart Street Lighting and 5G

These requirements for 5G networks are converging with other drivers for smart street lighting. For example, in February 2017, Infineon (a German semiconductor manufacturer) and eluminocity (smart street lighting solutions provider) announced a partnership to develop connected street lights with a scalable sensor hub, connectivity with support for 5G deployment, and data processing.

More recently, Philips announced plans to develop 4G/5G-enabled LED smart light poles with American Tower Corp., a real estate investment trust (REIT) providing communication towers and other transmission real estate. The smart light poles will not only house 5G network gears, but also connect to the Philips’ City Touch, a smart street lighting management platform.

5G Opportunities Expanding

As the smart street lighting deployment increases and 5G networks expand, there will be more opportunities for the two markets to be complementary to each other. To learn more about how smart street lighting can contribute to other city services, see the Navigant Research report Smart Street Lighting for Smart Cities.

 

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.

 

Harder, Better, Faster, and Stronger Communications Networks

— December 17, 2015

A few months back I wrote a blog entitled “The Comms Are the Cloud,” where I suggested that utilities intent upon enjoying the full potential of the coming Energy Cloud need to develop more holistic communications strategies—specifically, they’ll need enterprisewide, low latency, high bandwidth networks in order to get there.

This is a tough nut for utilities because over the years innumerable ad hoc, application-specific networks have been deployed. Even relatively new advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) networks were built largely with meter reading in mind, and many of the underlying technologies used stumble when tasked with broader distribution automation applications—and forget about teleprotection.

That needs to change. Globally, AMI penetration is still relatively low. While many utilities are running fiber or setting up microwave links to their second-tier substations, further out in the grid, connectivity is generally comprised of a hodgepodge of incompatible, location or task-specific networks. Most often, if AMI is present, it’s the only network.

The challenges are many. For one, licensed spectrum is not something that very many utilities own—and many don’t care to. Certainly spectrum prices can be high, although Salt River Project (SRP) and a handful of other utilities have recently made the plunge; SRP is planning to put its distribution automation applications on licensed 700 MHz spectrum that it bought for about $0.75/MHz POP, or an estimated $6.5 million. But unlicensed spectrum brings the risk of interference; as the Internet of Things proliferates, that spectrum could get dangerously clogged.

Crossing the Great Divide

Meanwhile, the major telecommunications service providers and infrastructure vendors are moving ahead with the next generation of wireless technology. 5G hasn’t been clearly defined by standards bodies, but Verizon announced back in September that it will be testing its 5G network in 2016 and intends to begin commercial deployment in 2017. It has partnered with communications heavyweights like Alcatel-Lucent, Cisco, Ericsson, and others to man its innovation centers and bring the technology to market. Verizon says its 5G network will offer throughput that is 50 times greater than its current 4G LTE network.

But while these telecommunications leaders work toward the next big thing, utilities are largely still reliant upon older communications technologies. There have been some announcements related to 4G-based offerings, and a growing number of utilities are looking to leverage 4G’s low latency. But many utilities are still reluctant to use public carrier networks for their critical applications. Instead they build their own—but is there any utility out there as good as a Verizon or AT&T when it comes building communications networks?

Some large utilities are beginning to reevaluate their communications strategies, but the IT/OT silos that segment utility divisions on so many other fronts are also very much alive when it comes to the communications networks. Retail (AMI) teams don’t want to share their network with the distribution operations folks, and the distribution operations folks may not want to let other applications ride on their distribution automation networks.

At the end of the day there are several points I want to make, and I intend to bring them up again and again in 2016. Utilities need to consider their networking strategy in a holistic manner. Utilities should consider spectrum ownership in their long-term planning. And utilities should reconsider their reluctance to rely upon public networks. Without robust, holistic communications, your utility can’t participate in the Energy Cloud.

Perhaps Daft Punk said it best:  Work it, Harder, Make it, Better, Do it, Faster, Makes Us, Stronger.

 

5G: What It Is and What It Isn’t

— May 15, 2015

Anyone who follows the communications industry with any regularity has been hearing a lot lately about 5G technology—the amazing next generation of mobile (and fixed) technology that promises ubiquitous, low-latency, high-bandwidth connectivity. 5G will power the Internet of Things and provide always-on coverage for a hyper-connected society. Conceptually, energy cloud connectivity will be a piece of cake for 5G networks. Practically, however, it’s a long ways off.

What Exactly Is 5G?

Good question. The answer is, they’re still figuring it out. “They” being a multitude of organizations and standards bodies worldwide that are currently working independently; once they’ve each come up with working definitions, they will then all need to agree to standards and spectrum alignment issues, among others, before a final answer emerges. But 5G sounds really good on paper, especially the part about less than 1 millisecond (ms) latencies and 1–10 gigabits per second (Gbps) connections. Here are the generally agreed upon working specs for a 5G network:

  • 1–10 Gbps connections to end points in the field (not theoretical maximum)
  • 1 ms end-to-end roundtrip delay (latency)
  • 1000 times bandwidth per unit area
  • 10x–100x number of connected devices
  • 99.999% availability
  • 100% coverage
  • 90% reduction in network energy usage
  • Up to 10 year battery life for low-power, machine-to-machine devices

Cool, right? The problem is that there is currently no way that all of these conditions can be met simultaneously. Rather, certain characteristics will be needed for certain applications, while other characteristics are needed for others. And creating a ubiquitous, less-than-1 ms latency network may simply not be physically possible across large geographies. This is a pretty tall order. Delivering even a few of these goals will be tough while simultaneously reducing network energy consumption by 90.

When Will 5G Really Happen?

It may sound cynical, but it’s unlikely that 5G will become a meaningful communications platform anytime even close to 2020, which is the target date that most standards bodies have set for initial commercial deployments. For years in the nineties, I wrote articles about the zero billion dollar wireless data industry. Following the hype cycle, it took another 15 years before all the necessary components came together and real billions were generated by wireless data. Particularly given the lack of agreement today on the goals and purposes of 5G networks, it will be a decade or more before real-world installations develop. For an excellent overview of the issues and challenges faced in defining and developing the 5G networks of the future, check out this white paper from GSMA.

What Does 5G Mean for Utilities

Over the longer term, 5G infrastructure may power futuristic applications like autonomous driving and virtual reality as well as smart grid applications. But for utilities today, existing communications technology is more than adequate—in places where it’s available.

The bigger challenge for utilities is getting those networks more widely deployed with a holistic strategy for a multitude of energy cloud applications. Monitor the 5G evolution if you’re curious about how engineers plan to defy the laws of physics, but when it comes to your utility’s network, consider the best existing solutions for the smart grid applications of today and tomorrow as you build and extend connectivity throughout the grid.

 

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