While the rise of technology has permeated almost every corner of culture, commerce and society, some areas – by their very nature – have proved more resistant to change. And for good reason. Take utility companies, for example. As part of the critical infrastructure (CI) market, it makes complete sense for them to hold back from adopting the latest, smoothest, shiniest and, often, unproven, untested technology. To quote poet Alexander Pope, “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread”.
What’s more, much are entering, or are in the middle of upgrading their OT networks, upgrading to modern packet systems from their old SDH and SONET systems. So no sooner has this cycle come to an end (and no doubt it was a bruising experience for some), the industry has hardly paused for breath before it’s started talking about the next cycle of change – 5G.
So it’s understandable why introducing 5G into the industry might chill the spine of any utility company. Utility companies – be they electricity, gas, water or sewage – have, between them, a very unique set of pressures, challenges and responsibilities that few other sectors have to endure. For example:
Introducing 5G technology into the mix will surely make things infinitely tougher for utilities, so is it any wonder they want to make sure that any technology they adopt is fit-for-purpose, field-tested, and battle-hardened, before they consider adopting it?
To appreciate the full benefits that 5G could bring to utilities does require a bit of context, so the simple answer to the question is that 5G will help utilities in two fundamental ways.
Firstly, it will help create a hyper-efficient, reliable, scalable, controllable and secure network that supports better internal processes and feedback. How? By replacing numerous different technologies (UHF, VHF and wireless systems connecting meters to aggregation and data centres, and 3G and LTE to sensors demand-response centres and SCADA servers) with 5G only.
Secondly, 5G will open up all sorts of opportunities and revenue streams for utilities that invest in laying their own fiber. How? By enabling them to sell on their spare capacity to wholesalers, service providers, network operators or others who might need it – such as civic authorities keen to make their cities smart.
So there you have it. Utilities are facing change from industry regulators keen to run a tight industry ship, governments keen to move to high-performing, multi-directional networks, and technology vendors keen to map their products and solutions to the needs of the service provider market.
In reality, most utility companies can only react to, and implement, directives the best way they can. However, you do have considerable control over how you respond to external change. So will you not just embrace 5G, but use it to shape and influence the direction of your business?
Marco is Head of Utilities and Critical Infrastructures Vertical Solutions at ECI. As such Marco is in charge of developing opportunities, solutions, sales tools and collateral for the variety of customers in his vertical.