What are the innovations that 5G brings? Idrica and Fivecomm reflect on the future of water

On Thursday, May 13, 2021, Idrica and Fivecomm led the event “The 5G revolution in the water industry. Ready for the future?”, which was followed by over 100 experts from Spain, Latin America and Portugal.

The webinar featured presentations by Chema Nebot, Business Development Director at Idrica, and Héctor J. Donat, CEO of Fivecomm. After their speeches, Rubén Vinagre, a journalist at Tecnoaqua, fielded questions posed by the audience. Don’t miss the experts’ reflections on the innovations that 5G brings.

Full webinar (available in Spanish)

1 – 5G implies greater industrial connectivity. What is the current status of its deployment?

Héctor J. Donat

Globally, 5G has been deployed for about a year, mostly by private operators. These private companies are mainly rolling out broadband services in large cities for smartphone users, i.e. for their regular customers.

This is not really benefiting industry, as it is usually located in more rural or not so densely populated areas. However, there are countries whose governments have managed to find an administrative arrangement to provide spectrum for industry.

Héctor Donat, Fivecomm

5G is very disruptive, with many stakeholders around the world jockeying for the best position. In fact, this is already happening with 6G. There are countries that have understood this and have been able to provide specific spectrum for industry, and they will be the ones leading the race for this technology.

In Spain, this option is not yet on the table. However, thanks to the European Union’s pandemic recovery and resilience funding, more and more efforts are expected to be directed towards bridging the digital divide between urban and rural areas. This will enable us to accelerate the implementation of 5G in Spain.

2 – Is it feasible to adapt network slicing to rural areas in underdeveloped countries? Is 5G likely to be more accessible in areas with limited access to basic networks?

Héctor J. Donat

This issue will largely depend on how countries prioritize spectrum specifically for industry. In my view, this is the key to the speed of development. If the criterion centres on ROI from smartphones, 5G will not be available in the rural or industrial world for another ten years.

It is also important to point out that network slicing is not yet a technological reality in 5G networks. It is not mature enough yet. The main Chinese and European providers are still carrying out preliminary tests, and this technology is unlikely to be ready until the beginning of next year.

In countries that do not yet have 4G, it doesn’t make sense to deploy 5G Non-Standalone, as this relies on 4G coverage. In these cases, pure 5G should be deployed directly. This would give them faster access to all the benefits of 5G technology at a lower cost.

Chema Nebot

In terms of the deployment of telecommunications infrastructures in underdeveloped countries and rural areas, some markets have actually skipped a generation. In other words, 4G was rolled out in some areas without 3G, and we saw 2G and 4G networks coexisting directly. This may actually be a good opportunity for certain regions and industries that will be eligible for post-pandemic reconstruction funding to gain access to 5G technology faster than expected. As for network slicing, a 5G network is needed first before it can be implemented.

Chema Nebot, Idrica

3 – Are water utilities ready for the transformation that 5G requires?

Chema Nebot

Water utilities are starting to embrace a number of changes. For example, they are already understanding the benefits of micro-metering over and above the billing factor. More and more utilities are realizing that sensors are a must if they want to know what is going on.

Expectations regarding 5G are high, and companies that want to lead the change have to take the plunge and lead the process. Spanish companies are ready. The only thing they need now is the resolve to kickstart the change and take risks. At Idrica, we are used to being at the forefront of change, and to championing and leading change, as we have taken on board and shared the culture fostered by Global Omnium (Aguas de Valencia). In fact, we are involved in one of the first 5G pilot experiences in Spain on remote metering.

4 – Will there be room for fibre optics given the advance of 5G?

Chema Nebot

5G and fibre optics go hand in hand. In other words, all radio nodes have to have fibre optics, so they will have to coexist.

5G has many advantages over fibre optics at domestic level. In fact, one of the first use cases for 5G will be residential broadband use, as the nodes will be able to target homes to provide very high-speed bandwidth. There will be some scenarios where it will be better to deploy 5G than fibre.

Héctor Donat

This issue will depend on the cost of fibre deployment in each country. For example, Spain already has a good fibre optic network in place. This will favour the deployment of 5G, as you need fibre to transmit the entire 5G channel. Therefore, fibre and 5G will continue to be rolled out in parallel.

The United States is a perfect example at domestic level, where 5G started with millimetre-band 5G for Fixed Wireless Access (FWA), i.e. high-speed services for domestic customers. It is highly complex and expensive to deploy fibre in the U.S. Therefore, large operators deployed 5G to replace fibre in that particular context. 5G and fibre will definitely go hand in hand in the future.

5 – Will it be feasible to access real-time sensor data through different platforms?

Chema Nebot

There is a very important concept behind water, which is transparency. The new citizens of the 21st century want to know what is going on. We no longer just want to know how much water we have used, but also how much is left in the reservoirs. We are concerned about water availability for the coming months. In short, transparent information is essential today, and this will increase in the future.

It is already possible to access real-time data thanks to sensors. One of our watchwords at Idrica is that data must be unlocked and be freely available. This is already a reality. Data should be hosted in one place and then distributed so that more people can access it.

6 – When will 5G data-loggers start to become commercially available?

Chema Nebot

The demands of water utilities and suppliers, together with the evolution of the market, will dictate when these devices become commercially available. In the end, it is the companies that drive technological development through their requirements.

We are seeing an increasing demand for 5G technology, which is why we are already one step ahead and are working with Fivecomm to get the first devices ready, which we are already deploying in the field. On a commercial level, availability will be determined by market demand and the advantages of 5G.

7 – Can a 5G network improve latencies and sensor density on the same antenna in an NB-IoT sensor network?

Chema Nebot

In theory, yes, and this is precisely what we are going to test in the pilots we are running this year. We are going to compare NB and 5G New Radio, and check whether the theory works in practice.

8 – There is already talk of 6G communication. What exactly is this?

Héctor J. Donat

Research is just beginning on 6G, i.e. 3G-PPP technology, but it will not be available before 2030. 6G will usher in the era of the Tera, achieving speeds of Terabits per second at Terahertz frequencies.

It will also break the millisecond latency barrier and will be a much more sustainable technology than its predecessors as it will be more energy efficient.

It will change the way we use data, enabling massive global connections. It will also automate and transform Artificial Intelligence as we know it.

Idrica and Fivecomm

Would you like to find out more about 5G? Don’t miss the interview with Héctor Donat on the present and future of this technology, and Chema Nebot’s reflections on how 5G is set to revolutionize the water industry.

Idrica’s recent whitepaper “5G – a game changer for the water industry” outlines the unique features of this technology and details the new developments we are about to witness in water management. These include autonomous plant operation, the use of real-time data and of remotely driven vehicles in agriculture.

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