IoT Blog

IoT Blog

LPWA: Enabling Innovations in Smart Water Management

In recent decades, the number of regions suffering from chronic water shortages has increased to the point where the United Nations predicts that 1.8 billion people will be living with water scarcity by 2025. The World Economic Forum estimates an average water loss of 25-30% for utilities, with some losing over 50% of produced water.

Smart Water Management solutions that leverage the IoT can monitor this resource as it is produced, stored, transported, and used. Sensors in water pipes can find leaks quickly to minimize water loss, identify blockages before they become major problems, and provide real-time data for predictive allocation, floodwater control, or water collection. There is further potential for innovation: wastewater sensors that detect for levels of bacteria and viruses can help prevent epidemics. Whether in cities, where effective water and wastewater management can conserve both water and energy, or on agricultural lands where irrigation planning can improve watering practices, the need for Smart Water Management has never been so urgent.

Utilities and governments, however, have been slow to adopt IoT-based solutions. One key issue has been the lack of connectivity options. Conventional 3G/4G modules are designed to support high-bandwidth consumer applications, such as streaming video. But many IoT solutions transmit very small amounts of data, which makes it difficult to justify the cost of a full-featured module. That’s where LPWA (low-power wide-area) technologies are effective.

Some technology vendors have launched proprietary LPWAs, but large utilities and governments have been concerned about the long-term feasibility of non-standard solutions running over unlicensed bands. On the standards side, the 3GPP organization ratified three LPWA technologies in Q1 2016:

  • Long Term Evolution-Machine Communications (LTE-M or CAT-M1)
  • Narrow Band IoT (NB-IOT or CAT-NB1
  • Extended Coverage GSM (EC-GSM-IOT or EC-GSM

3GPP LPWA technologies overcome the four major challenges of IoT-based water management solutions:
  • Cost: LPWA modules cost less than conventional 3G/4G modules but 3GPP LPWA benefit from economies of scale. Since 3GPP LPWA technologies are compatible with existing cellular networks and equipment, they will see wider adoption worldwide. This also brings a larger ecosystem into play: compatible products, expertise, tools, and other resources all contribute to making standards-based Smart Water solutions more affordable over time.
  • Power: In many cases, IoT devices must exist in locations without external power sources, relying on battery power for 10 – 15 years. 3GPP LPWA technologies consume very little power to meet (and often exceed) battery life requirements for metered Smart Water solutions. 
  • Coverage: Signal strength can be a problem when dealing with underground or remote locations. 3GPP standards allow connectivity to existing mobile network operators (MNO) whose base stations are densely-deployed and deliver ubiquitous coverage.  Proprietary technologies face more reliability challenges connecting to less densely-deployed networks, especially when solutions need to scale up. 
  • Longevity: In large-scale IoT deployments, long-term compatibility with MNOs is essential; otherwise organizations face the expense of replacing thousands of modules. Utilities and governments can rest assured that MNOs will support 3GPP LPWA far into the future. When available, 3GPP 5G networks will be backwards-compatible with 3GPP LPWA. 

Start with Sierra to learn more about Smart Water Management, 3GPP LPWA technologies, and LPWA for Smart Water Management, and read the white paper LPWA Applications: Smart Water Management.