Ericsson is equipping utilities for a more connected, safe, and convenient future
Ericsson is on a quest for easy. That’s how one of the world’s largest communication technology pioneers frames its continuing efforts to transform the planet with powerful, convenient connectivity solutions. They’ve been revolutionizing the way Americans live and work for nearly 120 years, having piloted the journey to 5G from its earliest beginnings, and were the first firm to launch 5G with all of the nation’s Tier-1 service providers. Currently, Ericsson has five live 5G networks in the U.S., and fuels 83 5G live networks in 41 other nations.
Recent research from the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association (CTIA) and the Boston Consulting Group revealed that, combined with cloud computing, artificial intelligence (AI), and the Internet of Things (IoT), 5G is expected to contribute $1.5 trillion to this country’s GDP and create 4.5 million jobs over the next 10 years. Ericsson is on the forefront of this rapid progression.
That ongoing pursuit of constancy, immediacy, and ease is particularly evident in the company’s emerging markets business unit, which is geared toward creating a common fabric for connectivity to make critical communications more seamless, dependable, and robust. One particularly compelling area of focus in this realm is the utilities sector, where issues of reliability are paramount.
“When you and I use our phones, if our connection drops, we just retry and get back in there and continue the conversation. If that happens to a power utility, people get hurt,” said CTO Gautam Talagery, who leads Ericsson’s emerging markets practice in the U.S., and is tasked with finding the next big technology leap for their customers. Those leaps will broaden Ericsson’s industry base through increasing the reliability and connectivity in existing and new industries, including utilities. While utilities certainly aren’t new, their approach to communications technology is changing, and that’s a great growth opportunity for Ericsson.
Today’s utilities need multiple lines and near-perfect connectivity; for some, nothing less than 99.999% reliability is acceptable. With lightning-fast speeds and low latency, 4G and 5G networks can deliver. However, with increased data transmission comes the need for expanded infrastructure to accommodate larger amounts of data. As consumer demands for futuristic technologies increase, such as holographic calls and augmented and virtual reality, those needs will continue to accelerate.
“As new needs arise from the consumer, we are placing new needs on the industry,” Talagery said, including expansion of their partner ecosystem with new sensor and device solutions. “We need reliable, dependable access that is quick, intensive, and everywhere.” Connecting existing wired technology to wireless is a challenge that partners like BEC Technologies and Ubicquia help the company meet with innovative wireless WAN, fixed wireless, and wireline solutions.
BEC Technologies' SIM-based solutions create a gateway that enables hardwired sensors connected to power utilities to transmit data across wireless networks. This begins the journey to portability of sensors and flexibility, making it possible for multiple power stations to seamlessly communicate and rebalance the power grid in event of localized failure.
A critical part of making that seamless connection a reality is standardization. At present, a variety of disparate network providers dot the mobile and wireless communications landscape, from the nation’s Big Three service providers — Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile, who depend on Ericsson’s network infrastructure — to independent, facilities-based providers, many of whom use proprietary technologies or Wi-Fi to make their connections.
Establishing connections over larger geographical areas often need to link different islands of technology that need to hand over between themselves to keep moving wireless connections active. Each island has its own access point, each of which presents an opportunity for the connections to fail. Talagery likens the process to an electrically powered train car that builds up enough speed prior to approaching a break in the power access point to coast over the power disconnect without a noticeable loss of power.
“That sort of thing applies to wireless connections and that becomes a risk. That's why standardized handover technologies are so important. We de-risk the industry by bringing standards into it, and the migration from the existing proprietary technology to the standardized technology becomes part of the solution,” he said, noting that Ericsson introduces standardized infrastructure technology that can be easily integrated with existing technologies.
Ericsson may build the networks, but they are also invested in bringing the device and sensor industries to new levels of innovation. As sensor technology evolves, the amount of information that can be communicated is also increasing. Getting proprietary sensors and devices to speak reliably to one another is an ongoing challenge, and that matters for utility providers.
“For example, in California if a power line falls and sparks it may cause a wildfire,” Talagery said. “The sensors on those power cables are all reporting back periodically and suddenly you stop hearing from it. You know either the pole has fallen down, or the cable has snapped. That's when your system automatically shuts the power off to that segment of the power cable.
“For that, you need to have the right sensors that go from being proprietary to being standardized. That aspect of sensor evolution is something that we are working actively with sensor and device providers to make sure that they stay in touch with the evolving technology.”
Ubicquia’s solutions leverage existing power grid technology to make smart grid, smart city, and small cell services a reality. Combining position sensing technology to identify movement and vision processing shows human operators what’s happening in real time, Ubicquia’s UbiGrid solutions help power company workers respond to potential problems quickly and accurately. “That's the fun part of it,” Talagery said. “Vision processing is catching up with what human beings can do.”
As Ericsson drives the ideal solutions for utilities, they use their presence in 180 countries to help identify global solutions in areas of ease, reliability, and performance and then apply them to local issues. Their wide-ranging portfolio enables them to offer solutions to issues that can be integrated across geographies, cultures, and connectivity requirements.
“On one hand, we are serving telecom companies in Africa who may be running their wireless networks on diesel generators because they don't have power being delivered to all locations. On the other hand, we are working with providers in the U.S. who have one of the best fiber networks in the entire world. They have all the resources that are needed, including unlimited power, to make sure they deliver a connection at all times,” Talagery said.
Not all areas require the same level of connectivity. The networks Ericsson deploys in Myanmar differ from those in the U.S. “They're looking for a network that consumes the minimum amount of power but at the same time gives the coverage needed to always stay connected,” Talagery explained.
“Then you look at utilities, which are quite diverse in their needs. Some don’t care about running videos, but they want their power meters to have reliable connections 100% of the time. When I take a solution from Africa or from Myanmar and deploy it in the United States for a utility, it's just perfect.
“It provides reliable coverage, but you're not going to have YouTube videos on it because those networks are more expensive than networks that have power meters. The mapping of the global solution locally becomes important because it meets the exact needs that a utility operator is looking for. That's where having experience in other parts in the world and mapping it to a local situation becomes important.”
The human connection
Ericsson’s commitment to ease takes on a deeply caring dimension when it comes to their employees. When the pandemic forced lockdowns, the firm created new initiatives to make working from home as trouble-free and healthy as possible. From tight restrictions on global travel designed to protect employees and customers, to providing amenities such as standing desks, good lighting, and webcams for home working arrangements, the company puts their workers first.
Not only did every employee receive a paid subscription to a popular meditation app, but the company also urged workers to commit to weekly sessions. “It’s not simply giving a subscription for a meditation app,” Talagery said. “We challenge our employees to use it and be better than their peers when it comes to taking care of themselves.”
Every connection Ericsson facilitates contributes to a better tomorrow for generations to come. “When we design products, we are designing them to reduce power consumption, ensuring that our sustainability is more and our carbon footprint is less, and we have initiatives for diversity and equality to ensure the right balance in the workforce, and the right combination of innovative thinking,” Talagery concluded. These commitments take a herculean effort, but true to form, Ericsson makes it seem easy.
We help our customers enable the full value of connectivity by creating game-changing technology and services that are easy to use, adopt and scale. Our comprehensive portfolio ranges across Networks, Digital Services, Managed Services and Emerging Business; powered by 5G and IoT platforms.
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