Trends in Telecommunications —
Trends materialize from the whiteboards of innovators, not emulators. The number of groundbreaking
technologies is growing, owing to industry trailblazers and the telecommunications carriers that are enabling quadrupled connections between people, devices and content by 2020. The result of an expansive digital mesh and expressive ingenuity is a spectrum of opportunity to transform ordinary functions into extraordinary interconnected systems. From self-driving cars to automated utilities, the 2018 trends show that innovation is moving from the whiteboard to the dashboard.
Trend #1: Advanced Communications Drive Autonomous Vehicles
Elon Musk, co-founder and CEO of Tesla, recently stated that in 20 years owning a human-driven vehicle will be like having a horse.1 In fact, estimates indicate that the autonomous vehicle (AV) market will grow at a double-digit compound annual growth rate by 2025 and capture the largest investment segment, averaging $1.43 billion per automaker from 2015 to 2025.2 As AV moves through the emerging technology hype cycle, 2018 will see increased collaboration between engineers, automakers, and regulators, as they prepare for a radically different driving future.
The mobility landscape is changing, and so is the role of telecommunications in transportation. AV will use sensor-based cameras, light detection and ranging (LiDAR), and radio detection and ranging (RADAR) combined with vehicle-to-everything communications to draw a real world, real-time picture of the driving environment. All of this means massive data generation and consumption, which requires wireless and fixed-line carriers to build up the supportive communications network. AV will rely on this network to assemble, move, and process, collected data to and from other cars and roadside data centers. Given the safety-critical messages exchanged between cars, enhanced mobile broadband and low-latency connections with guaranteed security and throughput is essential.
Currently, the U.S. Department of Transportation is testing dedicated short-range communications (DSRC) for AV. This two-way short- to medium-range wireless system allows fast data transmission and interoperable connectivity for active safety communications between cars. While DSRC is the go-to technology right now (many automakers will include the DSRC hardware in future models), many industry leaders think that cellular systems, specifically 5G, will be better suited to support AV. With greater capacity and faster broadband connection, 5G will allow the AV technology to scale more quickly.
In addition, 5G will help AV integrate with smart city functions, like real-time traffic information and ride-hailing applications, and other advanced technologies. As an example, the rideshare giant, Lyft, expects that in the near future, the majority of their AV will be electric, powered by 100% renewable energy.3 Lyft is demonstrating the smart city ideal where advanced communications and infrastructure enable the energy, electric vehicle, charging infrastructure, and autonomous vehicle markets to converge for elevated combined value and market growth.
The transition from 4G to 5G is underway, but it will not be a mainstay until around 2023. Government entities, carriers, and telecom service providers will continue to develop DSRC and 5G. With each system offering unique benefits, it is likely that both systems will remain central to AV establishment, providing redundancy to a technology that demands a reliable connection.
Trend #2: Converged IT/OT for Better Utility Management
Utilities that can detect situational changes advance their competitive edge. As Gartner recently reported, real-time situational awareness will be a required characteristic for 80% of digital business solutions by 2020.4 For utilities, this translates to providing automated distribution of electric services, advanced asset management, outage management and monitoring and control.
To build this awareness, utility communications networks will continue to merge Information Technology (IT), which supports the business operations, with Operational Technology (OT), which supports electric service delivery operations. Utilities that build communications networks that unite business goals with the day-to-day load management begin to modernize grid operations and start the process of merging smart grid and smart city functions, both of which use an IT/OT communications network.
There is increasing interest in merging IT/OT, but utilities often struggle with deploying private or public communications infrastructure that supports both IT and OT services. Black & Veatch surveyed electric utilities in its 2017 Black & Veatch Strategic Directions: Smart City/Smart Utility Report, and found that only 9% of utilities deemed their current communications networks “adequate” to support future needs and requirements for grid modernization.
It is likely that utilities will approach modernization by continuing to evolve their existing infrastructure, which often consists of 2 independent networks for IT and OT. Other utilities will use advanced capabilities in IP networking infrastructure equipment and applications to control the boundaries between business and delivery operations. We expect to see a mix of these approaches as utilities seek value and advantages that support future smart grid strategies. Regardless of the path to IT/OT convergence, deliberate and careful telecommunications master planning helps form the communications and IT/OT network infrastructure.
Trend #3: Smart City Initiatives Merge With Public Safety Communications
Technological advances afforded by broadband long-term evolution (LTE) networks have changed how first responders, city and county officials, public agencies, and transportation fleets, communicate and use data to better serve their communities. Next-generation LTE applications help increase efficiency for first responders and other agencies by enabling real-time transmission of voice, data, pictures, and video. As the public safety sector leverages communication technologies, the intersection with smart city initiatives becomes inevitable. Public safety professionals can more efficiently protect and deliver services to their communities as these applications integrate with other “smart” functions like smart streetlights, which can support gunshot detection sensors. This translates to added public safety services available day-to-day and during a crisis.
According to our report, 39% of agencies are using LTE applications to meet citizen expectations and increase first responder effectiveness. To best reap the benefits of next-generation data applications, many systems will require updates or replacements to integrate with smart city infrastructure. Organizations planning to make these investments listed high-speed data networks, system redundancy, and interoperability, as their top priorities. These features are critical elements of a resilient and reliant public safety communications system, and are essential for a smart city ecosystem.
As cities become more interconnected, significant gaps in public safety communications can be addressed to increase redundancy, resiliency, and interoperability, to improve safety for first responders and the constituencies they protect. Public safety agencies need to collaborate with community leadership to ensure that smart city planning considers public safety communications and other emerging technologies to benefit communities’ long-term safety and security needs.
Trend #4: Densification for 5G
As Internet of Things (IoT) connections scale from millions to billions, carriers push the evolution of 5G. The establishment of 5G is less of a single, enchanted event and more like clicking legions of LEGO® bricks into place. Eventually, pieces like critical densification, virtualization, and edge computing, assemble to form a new communications network that will help transform IoT imaginings into real-time innovation.
As part of this evolution, carriers are tackling capacity requirements. Adding spectrum is an option, but LTE spectrum is scarce and expensive. Instead, many carriers will create dense zones of small cells and distributed antenna systems (DAS) to help form the 5G network that will support our leaps-and-bounds technology advances like autonomous vehicles, machine learning, and augmented reality. Accordingly, 5G densification programs will be the biggest market driver for outdoor small cells growth, and installation of non-residential small cells will leap 36% by 2022.5
Deploying thousands of small cell and DAS sites takes time. While the FCC recently moved forward with plans to simplify small cell deployments in municipalities across the country, carriers are also streamlining their deployment approaches. Many are trading a multi-vendor approach for the self-perform approach. Carriers who use the self-perform approach engage one team to conduct efficient, uniform deployment of all phases, and entrust one team representative to coordinate with city offices, like utilities and permitting, on their behalf. The result is a streamlined deployment that provides increased coverage and capacity more quickly and with fewer project hiccups.
The Future Is Now
While emerging technologies and processes evolve throughout 2018, the telecommunications industry will stay focused on establishing the infrastructure that underpins transformative advances. Collaboration across geographies and stakeholders will need to grow in 2018 to create an open innovation platform to share technologies, create a unified strategy, and take advantage of synchronicities as systems become interconnected. As the enabling foundation, telecommunications will allow each industry to transform alongside innovation, ultimately weaving a new urban fabric that is integrated, split-second responsive, and built for meaningful interaction.
1. “Fully autonomous. There will not be a steering wheel. Twenty years? It will be like having a horse,” Musk said. “People have horses, which is cool. There will be people who have non-autonomous cars, like people have horses. It would just be unusual to use that as a mode of transport.” https://www.theconnectedcar.com/author.asp?section_id=627&doc_id=734721
The 2017 Black & Veatch Strategic Directions: Smart City/Smart Utility Report can be found at https://pages.bv.com/SDR-Smart-City-Smart-Utility-DL.html.
For more information about the self-perform approach, please see Jeff Parsons’ (Black & Veatch) article Small Cell Savvy: Self-Perform Deployment Advances Networks and the Smart City in the August 2017 issue of ISE magazine at https://www.isemag.com/2017/08/small-cell-savvy/.