5G in Energy Sector Looms Large, Despite Lack of 5G Infrastructure
Among other enhancements, 4.5G offers higher speeds than 4G, and 4.9G kicks those speeds up while reducing latencies to about 2 ms.
These interim “Gs” have gotten little publicity outside the confines of hard-core broadband networking technologists, but they illustrate that the path from 4G to 5G might not be a terribly disruptive process.
“As the 5G standards are finalized and the 5G industrial ecosystem develops, 5G will be added to existing private 4.9G utility private networks where there are specific applications that require it,” said Kenneth Rabedeau, global energy CTO Nokia, in an email exchange.
For utilities, even 4G networking might represent a new twist in grid development plans. “What you are seeing right now is deployment of private 4G, or discussions about deployment of private 4G networks,” Elberg said, “which has all of the bandwidth and latency capabilities that utilities need for most applications.”
That promise of an easy upgrade to 5G could make 4G an attractive networking alternative. “Ultimately, of course, any utility that deploys 4G gets to 5G,” said Elberg.
Equipment and service suppliers share the opinion that 4G and its variations are likely stepping stones to 5G. Nokia’s Rabedeau wrote that “most private LTE networks built today are 4.9G and will allow coexistence with a 5G network, and the evolution from private 4.9G to 5G with reuse of many of the private 4.9G networks.”
Jay Olearain, director of product and new business innovation for Verizon, said in an email that “existing non-embedded IoT technologies will operate over 5G wireless technologies.” That should allay upgrade concerns for early adopters.
5G’s Prominence in Grid Planning
Utilities might not be ready to go all in on 5G at this point, but it’s a point of discussion as grid architects plot their future networks. Most experts see 5G as a viable alternative in five to 10 years, but considering it now is an essential part of the planning process.
“There’s a lot of talk about this—the smartening up of the grid and how 5G will impact that significantly,” said Chester. “It’s definitely not going to take anyone by surprise—the conversations that need to happen are happening now.”
When utilities, DERs [distributed energy resources] or other energy industry organizations do start to dip their toes in the 5G pond, it will be on a limited, closely monitored basis as there’s simply too much at stake to take chances with energy production or distribution.
“I’m sure it’s going to start in a more of a controlled pilot situation, which a microgrid scenario would be perfect for given that it’s a lot more localized,” said Chester. “You’re on a smaller scale and you can really study the impact.”
Wi-Fi 6: 5G Friend or Foe?
5G isn’t the only new communications protocol that might interest energy IoT developers and maintainers. Wi-Fi 6, the latest iteration in the ubiquitous standard, rolled out late last year by the Wi-Fi Alliance, the industry organization that helps set and certify standards for Wi-Fi communications.