As the utility sector evolves from a labour-intensive industry that provides basic services like electricity, water or gas to one that makes use of Artificial Intelligence and drones to inspect equipment and offer a range of additional services such as broadband access.
5G networks which power digitalization are now helping these industries expand their services, bring new source of revenue and even cut costs.
UTILITIES ARE GOING CELLULAR. WHY?
Utilities have found multiple reasons for investing in LTE or 5G networks. Using a cellular network provides a layer of control not available with Wi-Fi along with more performance and reliability. It also provides security and other needed features that offer the mission-critical services necessary for daily living. One survey (1Q21) reports that 69% of utilities asked, “consider real-time communications as a key need driving 5G adoption” and that 38% of utilities asked are “currently using, piloting or testing 5G, with a further 13% planning to implement a solution in the next 12 months.”
Avista Edge and Samsung have now successfully put through trial an electric meter collar that can be quickly and easily installed and contains all of the necessary 5G Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) components that enable high-speed broadband access.
WHAT APPLICATIONS WILL BE AVAILABLE?
With the use of cellular networks, Utilities will be deploying many interesting applications. Using Artificial Intelligence, utilities will be able to detect early where maintenance is needed in time to prevent serious problems. Smart meters will be able to detect leaks sooner and prove helpful for water, electricity and gas utilities.
The Indonesian state-owned electricity provider has partnered with Nokia to manage their devices and have constant connections across much of the country, providing real-time power consumption monitoring.
Drone technology is now being employed to check for downed or damaged transmission lines which are a significant source of wildfires. This is anticipated to save money and improve worker safety as well. Smart sensors which are also a part of the improvement can detect and report leaks rapidly, potentially saving valuable resources.
Furthermore, vehicles equipped with mobile routers connect to local devices to gather information more quickly and accurately than done by hand.
Remote sites like wind farms or solar arrays will be able to keep in constant contact with operating centres, thereby providing live information on energy generation.
Among all these intriguing features, 5G core networks which power digitalization will also deliver higher speeds of 5G which will allow improved training and Augmented Reality (AR) assisted maintenance teams to improve repair times.
In spite of all this, it must be noted that that this cellular uptake is currently facing some barriers in utilities companies.
BARRIERS TO CELLULAR UPTAKE
Utilities companies are hesitant to engage cellular technology for reasons including lack of interest from leadership who require further convincing on its benefits, budget constraints and lack of solid business plan. There are also concerns on lack of interoperability with existing equipment and perceived deficiency of battery life for connected devices.
including a lack of interest from leadership, who have yet to be convinced of the benefits. Another reason is budgetary constraints and the lack of a solid business plan. Concerns also include a lack of interoperability with existing equipment and a perceived battery life deficiency for connected devices.
It is estimated that 5G-powered utilities will add about $330 billion to global GDP by 2030. With the various capabilities offered by this innovation, there are potentially a lot of evolved business models with greater efficiency and functionality in our utilities like gas, electricity and water operations than there currently are now in the future.