5G in Energy Sector Looms Large, Despite Lack of 5G Infrastructure
Cell service companies want you to believe that 5G’s fat, fast pipes are already lighting up broadband communications coast to coast. That might be an overstatement.
The spec sheet for the proposed 5G standard is likely to generate considerable excitement among telecom pros and users alike, so you can’t blame service providers for resorting to a hyperbole in their messaging. But the truth is, a 5G standard has yet to be ratified.
“The 5G standards are still being revised—there isn’t even a final spec on 5G,” said Richelle Elberg, principal research analyst, energy connectivity, at Navigant. “The hype cycle right now is really premature.”
Still there’s plenty of documentation defining how it will work and the kind of performance it’s expected to yield. Those docs and implementations of some features likely to become part of the final standard are enough to get IoT engineers excited, particularly those in the energy sector, although a cautious approach makes sense.
“No utility is going to build a 5G network today, no one,” added Elberg. “They’re going to build a 4G network and then over time they’re going to deploy software upgrades.”
A leap to 5G is unlikely, until utilities gain more experience with 4G technologies.
What 5G Promises
In describing the benefits of 5G, it’s hard to avoid the proverbial tech mantra of “bigger, faster, cheaper.” The anticipated standard will boast a spec sheet that outdoes 4G’s by wide margins.
Speed, reduced latency and the ability to support many devices are 5G’s basic benefits. But that is an understatement when you consider the possibility of theoretical speeds up to 20 Gbps with more practical rates ranging from 5 Gbps to 10 Gbps, which leaves 4G in the dust by a range from 20 to 100 times.
Latency in the 4G world lingers around 50 ms, while 5G should be able to trim that down to as low as 1ms.
The 5G pipe isn’t just fast, it’s also fat, which will allow it to connect thousands to millions of devices depending on configurations and applications. The real-world numbers may not reach into the millions, but they will be a significant increase over 4G— a tangible benefit to utilities managing energy distribution.
“A lot of the goals of the smart grid are to have more real-time interaction between supply and demand,” said Matt Chester, energy analyst at Chester Energy and Policy. “So when you have the ability on the grid to see demand rising instantaneously more or less with 5G. then the utilities are more able to respond to that.“
There will be three versions of the 5G protocols—low-, mid- and high-band 5G—differentiated by a range of operational frequencies. The high-band edition represents much of the “newness” of 5G, as it uses short-range waves which translates into flat-out speed.
The Route to 5G via 4.5G and 4.9G
The 5G protocol is built on the foundation created with the 4G standard, and the progression from 4G to 5G is actually being accomplished with a couple of “standards stops” along the way, notably 4.5G and 4.9G.