The Tennessee Advanced Energy Business Council’s annual, year-end “Opportunities in Energy” event welcomed Majid Khan, Managing Director of Strategy and Business Development at Verizon to the stage at The Square Room at Market Square in Downtown Knoxville to talk about 5G and the future of energy in our region and the nation as a whole.

Khan articulated Verizon is the first in 5G, and how the telecommunications company is committed to deploying 5G across more cities and across the state of Tennessee, as well as the economic development and job creation benefits that are tied to this critical infrastructure.

This next generation network has been launched in 20 markets already, including Memphis with more Tennessee cities in consideration, and it’s creating an exciting transformation in the utility and generation sector.

Pictured: Majid Khan, Managing Director of Strategy and Business Development at Verizon

But in order to successfully deploy 5G, it’s not all about speed and throughput anymore. There’s lots more to consider including reliability, low latency, and proximity. It’s a network that while still being understood in its entirety, it’s creating immense opportunities.

“We want to make sure everyone understands 5G is new,” said Khan. “We’re still learning as an industry, we’re learning with our customers, we’re learning with the industry partners, and together we’re finding success. But by no means are we saying we have all the use cases defined and everyone has the answer. We’re early in the cycle, so we’re learning together.”

Khan stated real-time edge-base critical application is going to be key, and brought up the company’s recently announced partnership with Amazon Web Services to improve 5G speeds. So if Verizon can do that in a commercial environment, like with Amazon, the same thing can be applied in an energy and utility sector.

So how do you actually deploy 5G? Khan said there are four elements that the company has come up with. And if a city is missing one of these elements, the chances of them deploying it aren’t as likely.

  1. Fiber. Bottom line more fiber infrastructure is needed for 5G to be successful. In Memphis, there’s an initiative to place fiber both aerially and in the ground.
  2. Spectrum. The greater the frequency, the higher the bandwidth, and the lower the latency means 5G is more likely to be deployed. Verizon noted their looking at both high-bandwidth and mid-bandwidth locations as well.
  3. Software defined networks. A lot of 5G relies on virtualization and software networks ability to route your traffic.
  4. Real-estate & multi-access edge compute. Where do you actually house this massive amount of equipment? Utilities play a large role in that because they own the assets that Verizon needs to deploy 5G. So partnerships with, for example, KUB, MLGW, and NES are critical.

Verizon has invested in billions of dollars worth of investment in fiber companies, as they want to be the first in 5G and they realized thats what it would take to deploy that fiber.

Verizon’s goal is to serve every type of customer that exists inside the marketplace, whether that be small and medium businesses, government customers, state-level agencies, and utilities. All of those customers are going to need this fiber infrastructure. Some will be served through 4G/5G assets and some will be served with direct wire line activity.

Khan brought up the many use cases where 5G will be critical including the implementation of smart cities, autonomous transportation and connected vehicles, smart homes, energy & utilities, improving the healthcare industry, among others.

To build a better network for utilities, there must be an optimized, streamlined, and accelerated process. Early conversations with those utilities and governing officials are also critical. Khan mentioned that when Verizon is deploying their assets, about 40 to 50% of those assets are going on utility-owned assets. So educating their partners on what they’re planning on doing, what’s their timeline, and what exact infrastructure will be deployed, whether that be pole replacements or pole attachments or others, is vital to the success of 5G deployment. And above all else ensuring that when the equipment is installed, it’s not disrupting existing customers.

A panel discussion moderated by Dr. Greg Peterson, Professor & Department Head at the University of Tennessee in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, with Khan, Greg Thompson, Senior Manager of Smart Grid Services and Digital Engagements at Schneider Electric, as well as with Gary Brinkworth, Director of Enterprise Research and Technology Innovation at TVA focused primarily on the opportunities and challenges of how 5G can impact the energy landscape here in Tennessee.

Brinkworth commented on how TVA is interested in how 5G can help them and their local power companies (LPCs) to deploy more sensors, analysis and analytics at the grid-edge.

Specifically how can TVA deploy more sensors further out into their network and then successfully pull back into its control centers that information and do it at a speed that’s approaching real-time, so TVA can make real near-time decisions or allow the system to make those decisions that maintain reliability and resiliency for the broader grid. Asking, how does TVA enable that generation and transmission system that they’ve been operating for more than 80 years and how do they make it smarter and more responsive.

Thompson brought up that while enabling utilities and TVA with the devices to facilitate 5G successfully is important, so is including the end customer into this transition of energy. He mentioned how Schneider has been working with facilities, homes, and industrial locations to bring them in to this transformation. Schneider sees 5G as an opportunity to bring more of those sensor points and control applications in and bring in more of an energy-as-a-service type of model to the industry.

He also brought up the “prosumer” who is not only buying energy from a LPC but also generating their own energy at the same time. So as one is bringing the customer into the transaction, communications are critical. One also needs the utility to understand how the building is operating, connecting buildings to the grid, and connecting vehicles to the grid, and all those become a more complex prosumer type of a model. Mentioning responsiveness is also important and control applications because the grid needs to make decisions for its own health. So consumers must be brought into that.

Khan added in timing and echoed the importance of planning and coordination in minimizing disruption because at the end of the day it’s the people that matter. Advocacy is also crucial and public safety in addressing cybersecurity threats and ensuring reliability.

Education was also mentioned during the panel, particularly the importance in informing the public, from the workforce to the end-user, so they’ll be ready for the 5G transition.

Brinkworth said TVA recognized the education piece is an issue for them as the industry evolves and is becoming more technologically advanced with increasing digitization. TVA has been working to expose those in college to the energy transformation as well as how they’re training their people, especially in its transmission operations group, giving them different types of training of the digital transformation.

Thompson emphasized how their customer base isn’t used to that level of connectivity. So a lot of the education for them is explaining what the real value is for customers to transition and ensuring their security, minimizing their risk, and making sure there’s no disruptions.

Khan said Verizon has received feedback from some of the places they’ve been considering launching 5G requesting creating community outreach programs. Verizon has been working with utilities to ensure awareness is being raised with their customers about what 5G’s benefits are and the use cases.