Over the last ten years, gas and water utilities have increasingly used smart gas metering and smart water metering to help them more efficiently and accurately collect usage data, reduce waste, make better decisions, enhance customer service, and otherwise digitally transform how they operate. Today, this smart meter adoption is accelerating as many utilities seek to take their current smart metering initiatives a step further and upgrade to an Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) that integrates smart gas or water meters, communications networks, and data-management systems into a single system.
As we describe in our recent white paper, Unlock the Potential of Smart Metering with Cellular LPWA, as utilities engage in these AMI deployments, they are finding that cellular wireless networks – in particular Low Power Wide Area (LPWA) cellular wireless networks – deliver them the Internet of Things (IoT) connectivity they need to reduce their AMI projects’ time-to-market, simplify AMI deployment, and keep their AMI operating costs low.
What is it about LPWA cellular technologies, such as LTE-M and NB-IoT, that enable them to provide utilities with the IoT connectivity they need to quickly and cost-effectively deploy and manage AMI? There are four main reasons:
These standards have led to the development of a large global ecosystem of LPWA technology suppliers, infrastructure vendors, and professional service providers. These standards include ongoing oversight and updates to LPWA standard by the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) standards body. Together, these factors make it easier for utilities around the world to cost-effectively source and deploy the solutions and services they need for smart gas metering and smart water metering projects, while also ensuring that the connectivity standard they are using is secure and futureproof.
The 3GPP designed its LPWA standards to address the specific connectivity needs of organizations seeking to deploy smart meters and similar IoT devices. For example, LPWA technologies use very low levels of power, enabling battery-powered smart meters that use LPWA to work in the field for ten to twenty years without needing a battery replacement. In addition, smart meters that use LPWA modules for connectivity are less expensive to manufacture than other networking technologies, and LPWA supports high-capacity deployments – meaning a utility can afford to purchase thousands or even millions of smart gas meters or smart water meters, and, within a small area, reliably connect larger numbers of these smart meters to a single LPWA network.
Most IoT management systems support LPWA, making it easy for utilities to find and install an IoT management system with the functionality they need to collect, analyze, and use the data generated by their smart meters. These proven IoT management systems also help the utility secure and enhance the functionality of their LPWA-connected smart meters by allowing them to send security patches, firmware upgrades, and other updates over-the-air to smart meters in the field. Rather than having to deal with the time and expense of sending technicians to manually update these smart meters, utilities distribute these updates to their smart meters by simply pressing a button in their IoT management system.
Around the world today Mobile Network Operators (MNO) have deployed public cellular networks that offer utilities broad LPWA coverage for their smart meters. This allows smaller utilities to rollout their AMI deployments in phases as their budgets allow, since they do not have to build and maintain their own private LPWA network to connect to their smart meters. On the other hand, larger utilities that can benefit from the scale and control that comes with constructing and managing their own LPWA network can do so. This flexibility enables larger utilities to deploy a private LPWA network that meets their specific security needs, provides them with coverage for remote areas, can fully support all smart meters installed at customer sites, and offers them guaranteed Quality of Service (QoS).
Sierra Wireless enables utilities to realize the advantages of LPWA for AMI deployments by providing them with everything they need to use cellular LPWA technology to develop, deploy, and manage a secure smart metering solution. With Sierra Wireless, these utilities have a single partner that can provide them with integrated modules for their smart meters, support for their network operations, an IoT management platform, and end-to-end smart meter security.
Recent research from Sierra Wireless shows that working with a single partner can help organizations reduce operational and device management costs by up to 40%. In addition, Sierra Wireless’s HL78 Series of LPWA modules are designed to handle harsh environment conditions, and their best-in-class energy ratings extend battery life by between 5 and 10X.
Sierra Wireless HL78 Series modules offer other benefits as well. As we describe in this blog, our new HL78 Series module, the HL7845, features support for 450 MHz wireless spectrum. This provides utilities in countries like Germany, the Netherlands, and Austria — whose governments are reserving or considering reserving 450 MHz spectrum for the use of smart energy solutions — with a smart meter module that can use 450 MHz bands like 31, 72, 87, and 88.
Our HL78 Series modules also transmit data at 23 decibels per milliwatt (dBm) compared to 20 dBm for many of our competitors. This higher transmission power improves signal building penetration and coverage in remote areas, enabling utilities to ensure they have a reliable connection to their smart meters even if they are located deep inside a building, in a cellar, in rural locations and other places where network coverage is often limited.
Utilities that deploy our HL7845 module on a private rather than public 450 MHz network can boost the power of their LPWA signals from 23 dBm to 26 dBm, further improving their network coverage.
HL78 Series modules are available with built-in cellular connectivity, meaning they are ready-to-connect to either Sierra Wireless’s global Smart Connectivity service or its North American Enhanced Carrier Connectivity service. These services enable utilities to avoid selecting and managing different cellular providers, while also helping them eliminate local coverage gaps. In addition, AirVantage, Sierra Wireless’ unified module and connectivity management platform simplifies smart meter configuration , and connectivity troubleshooting.
Perhaps most importantly, Sierra Wireless delivers utilities device-to-cloud security for their AMI smart meter deployments, with a multi-layered approach that includes secure boot, secure Firmware Over-the-Air (FOTA) updates, and Authentication Vectors (AVs) within its IoT management platform that add an extra layer of protection to the smart meter authentication process.
Read our whitepaper, Unlock the Potential of Smart Metering with Cellular LPWA, and Start with Sierra to learn more about how you can quickly and cost-effectively use LPWA cellular networks to increase your utility’s operational efficiency, enhance its data security, deliver better customer experiences, and realize all the other benefits of AMI.
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