5G is certainly all the rage right now, so it’s no surprise that some of the nation’s biggest utility companies are working to figure out whether they have a role to play in the space. However, it’s unclear whether that role will position utilities as 5G operators, customers or both.
One trend is growing increasingly clear though: Utilities are very interested in launching their own private wireless networks using 4G LTE technology.
Utilities are in the very early stages of exploring 5G, too. For example, the Utilities Technology Council (UTC) recently commissioned a white paper that outlines how utilities might play in a 5G world. The white paper represents an important part of the conversation because the UTC is a major mouthpiece for utility companies; the association was founded in 1948 to advocate for spectrum for utilities, and now it represents a who’s who of electric, gas and water utilities, as well as natural gas pipeline providers, critical infrastructure companies and others in the industry.
According to the group’s 5G white paper, utilities could potentially help wireless network operators deploy 5G by providing locations for small cells and base stations or, potentially, fiber for backhaul. Already Xcel Energy — the eighth-largest electricity utility in US based on market value — confirmed that it is working to provide unnamed wireless network operators access to the 180,000 street lights it owns throughout Colorado and elsewhere. The utility said it had received roughly 1,000 small cell installation requests so far.