Mobile connectivity has permeated our lives and lifestyles, with devices like fitness trackers, smart refrigerators, and remote-controlled home heating systems. Internet of Things (IoT) devices currently use cloud-connected cellular networks like 4G LTE, but they are limited by an overcrowded network with insufficient bandwidth.
With recent and future 5G deployments, it will help facilitate technologies from autonomous cars to Smart Cities, industrial IoT, and immersive education. 5G will also heighten experiences for existing applications, bring about the evolution of seamless connectivity, and help increase data speeds and network reliability.
Interestingly, Georgia Power, headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia, has found an opportunity to proactively offer its nontraditional vertical assets to accelerate 5G build-out for major telecommunication providers. With its 2.5 million customers, this electric utility is on the forefront of helping communications service providers (CSPs) with their 5G efforts.
Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint, Crown Castle, and telecommunication infrastructure companies (e.g., Crown Castle, Mobilitie, etc.), are ramping up for the massive 5G infrastructure build-out to meet future customer demand.
Since a 5G small cell network device has a much higher bandwidth, but smaller geographic coverage than a 4G device, it requires far more transmitters to cover the same territory as the current 4G network. More than 800,000 new 5G transmitters and communication devices are expected to be installed across the United States by 2021.
5G devices are typically installed between 30 and 35 feet high on utility poles owned by power companies. But, oftentimes getting the equipment on those poles is easier said than done.
Challenges facing telecommunications providers include:
• Insufficient vertical assets (e.g., poles) available for their equipment.
• Slow traditional permitting processes to attach to a vertical asset.
• Semi-manual permitting, unable to accommodate very-large-scale projects.
• Inability to easily track their application throughout the process.
Later, after these hundreds of thousands of 5G network devices have been activated, telecom providers will also need a way to easily manage and maintain their devices.
Problem-Solving at Its Best
Georgia Power examined the problem and determined that they could simultaneously assist the telecommunication providers and establish a new product offering to customers.
It was determined that nontraditional vertical assets, such as utility-owned streetlights, transmission facilities and parcels, could be made available for small cell and macro cell colocation.
The project team began by establishing their goals:
• Make it easy for customers (communication companies) by supporting siting/coverage.
• Provide timely, automated permitting, make-ready and build-out services.
• Bill customers accurately.
• Support ongoing colocation equipment maintenance.
• Draw a bright line between regulated joint use and unregulated assets.
Georgia Power also realized their own internal challenges:
• As a new business unit, there was a lot to learn.
• This undertaking would include aggressive deadlines.
• The need to deal with incomplete vertical asset data.
• Uncertainty about customer requirements and priorities.
• The need to quickly make post-go-live changes to workflows as lessons are learned.
The company had some existing infrastructure and best practices to lean on as they embarked on this new opportunity. They currently used Varasset, a work and asset management software solution specializing in regulated utility pole joint use. They also had extensive GIS data in their Esri platform. Varasset’s configurable workflows and Esri integration made it a strong toolset to facilitate all stages of the colocation process.
Within months, Georgia Power had configured the program to automate the permitting process, providing a web portal where requests are initiated by telecommunication companies, followed by design reviews and approvals, make-ready, build-outs, and billing. (See Figure 1.)
Georgia Power successfully launched their “Varasset for Colocation” platform within six months of starting the project. It now leases available space on Georgia Power lighting and other available infrastructure to wireless telecommunications carriers and fiber providers to increase bandwidth where there are gaps in the network.
Georgia Power Telecom Colocation has configured and refined workflows for each asset type, to process far more requests, more quickly, with fewer employees.
The program allows for customized workflows for each asset type, allowing requests to be processed more quickly, with fewer employees. Both Georgia Power and the telecommunication providers receive immediate, automated notifications as workflow activities are completed, accelerating the permitting process and quickly bringing issues to light. Feedback from the telecommunication companies is extremely positive.
Georgia Power continuously utilizes technology research and collaborates with companies in order to introduce new products and services that help meet the changing needs of its customers. For the tens of thousands of attachments 5G network providers need, this important initiative provides value for all customers and helps the company remain a competitive state in which to do business.