“The commercial, operational and safety benefits of smartphones and other smart technologies” are empowering the energy industry says Colin Abrey of Nextivity

Dawn of a New Day for Energy Companies
Dawn of a New Day for Energy Companies

Colin Abrey is Vice President, Channel Sales for the EMEA region | Nextivity

Thanks to the smartphone and highspeed internet access, the world has become a much smaller place. A direct consequence of this global interconnectivity, however, is the exponential growth in energy consumption, which is not only needed to power smartphones and other digital devices, mobile phone towers also require electricity to broadcast mobile signals in the first place.

The growth in energy consumption, combined with people’s expectation to be able to remotely manage their energy usage via smart devices, is driving change across the energy sector, with many suppliers obliged to re-think their entire business process as a result.  As well as implementing smart infrastructure processes to increase production without compromising staff safety, they’re having to overhaul their communications frameworks. Telecoms networks, originally intended to provide critical situational awareness, underpin health and safety procedures and enable engineers to swiftly restore electricity supplies in the aftermath of bad weather are now also required to power smart technologies to facilitate digital customer experiences.

To compound the situation, heightened competition, in light of disruptive suppliers entering the market and changing consumer expectations as a result, is making it increasingly difficult for suppliers to retain their customer base. Not only must they be able to offer compelling deals whilst preserving the bottom line, they’re coming under increased pressure to reduce Co2 emissions in line with environmental targets. Although renewable energy companies are able to tick the sustainability boxes, they’re seldom able to compete with their fossil fuel counterparts because of high upfront expenditure and ongoing Opex.

Traditional and renewable energy suppliers alike are rapidly realising that implementing resilient communications networks to ensure reliable mobile coverage is not only fundamental from operational and productivity standpoints, it’s central to safety critical communications. Reliable 4G coverage is going to become even more important over the next 3-5 years as the Government presses on with plans to migrate its existing public safety communications network from Airwave’s Tetra network to 4G. What this means in practical terms is that energy suppliers without adequate 4G coverage in their respective power stations will not be well positioned to manage an emergency situation.  Having the appropriate infrastructure to facilitate uninterrupted 4G coverage is particularly crucial for an industry whose workforce spends much of its time working alone in extreme conditions; in remote off-grid locations, offshore on wind farms or oilrigs, or deep underground. With appropriate site-wide 4G coverage, these lone workers would have the supporting infrastructure to raise the alarm if they’re injured, fall or become trapped anywhere in the facility.

If energy companies are to fully embrace the commercial, operational and safety benefits of digital technologies and harness the power of 5G in the fullness of time, they need a feasible means of augmenting their existing comms capabilities to support digital technologies. For the most part, their telecoms infrastructures have either been built from the ground up or comprise private communications networks because they’re off the mobile grid.  Rip and replace tactics to ensure seamless connectivity and deliver the strong enough signals needed are simply not viable in the majority of cases.

Implementing supplementary mobile signal boosting technologies to improve mobile coverage hasn’t been a painless process either because, until, recently, their deployment was severely hampered by stringent regulation governing their usage. This has resulted in many contraband deployments which ran (and indeed still do) the risk of being shut down or having severe fines imposed if identified.

However, thanks to a relaxation in the mobile repeater rules by the regulator, this is no longer the case and energy companies can take action to improve their mobile signal quality in their respective powerhouses or in their support vehicle fleets using readily available signal boosting equipment. The only limiting factor is that said equipment must satisfy Ofcom’s mobile repeater licence exemption specification concerning usage and not many do. Cel-Fi by Nextivity is an example of a licence-exemption compliant solution.

Despite a deluge of technological advances, energy companies have historically been slow to embrace digitization but the affordability of devices along with super-fast unlink and downlink speeds has provided the catalyst for change. Apart from delivering new opportunities to become more customer centric and to drive sales, mobile connectivity is central to streamlining operations through industrial automation and IoT. This will become even more prominent when 5G eventually goes mainstream. Seamless mobile connectivity is also essential to the staff safety and wellbeing by providing a reliable alternative to other preinstalled systems. 4G is a mature network and is proven to satisfy all current safety critical communications requirements. Mobile is not just another technology energy suppliers have to contend with, it has the potential to transform the power industry beyond all recognition.

 

 

About Colin Abrey
Colin Abrey is Vice President, Channel Sales for the EMEA region at Nextivity. He has spent more than 30 years in wireless and international telecoms industries and held senior positions with several leading companies operating in this space, including Anixter, Zinwave, Cambridge Broadband Networks and Global Network solutions (a division of L-3 Communications). He has deployed many large-scale in-building projects, including airports, convention centres, hospitals, malls, commercial buildings, sports stadia and hotels.

 

The content & opinions in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of AltEnergyMag

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