March 15, 2018

NB-IoT Extends the Opportunities of Smart Metering

ThinkstockPhotos-685306588.jpgHow can an AMI technology provider prove the flexibility and future-readiness of its solution better than by continuously creating new opportunities in smart metering and reacting to the rapid market development? Landis+Gyr demonstrates its capabilities to meet energy utilities’ expectations and needs by adding the latest advantageous communications technology to its AMI portfolio –  NB-IoT will contribute to smart grid functionalities and to the Internet of Things.

The rapid evolution of communication technologies requires the ability to quickly identify and exploit new possibilities for AMI and smart grid deployments. Over the decades, here at Landis+Gyr we have continuously introduced new technologies in our portfolio; both upgrading as well as extending the range of supported communication technologies. Our leading idea has been – and will continue to be – that no single technology is above the others, but instead the optimal communication technology can vary case by case, and often the most optimal solution requires a mix of technologies. In the future, we will see an even stronger march of so-called hybrid networks utilizing a wide range of communication technologies

Today, we have again identified new opportunities for utilities to advance the Smart Grid and IoT development. As a response to the rapidly evolving cellular technology enablers, we will be adding NB-IoT technology (Narrowband IoT; LTE Cat-NB1) to our solution portfolio.

NB-IoT - a true enabler for the Internet of Things

The adoption of NB-IoT technology has been extremely fast. The speed and breadth of the technology introduction has surprised many – including myself. But what is so special about NB-IoT and why are, for example, telecom operators so keen to introduce it?

NB-IoT is an LPWAN (Low Power Wide Area Network) technology based on the existing 4G/LTE communication network. It is standardized by the global 3GPP standards organization, an initiative uniting several telecommunications standard development organizations. The reason why NB-IoT is seen as so interesting is because it is considered to be the true standardized enabler of the Internet of Things. It advances the digitalization of the grid by allowing the connection of a massive number of various devices into a single network in a cost-efficient and reliable way.

Cost-efficiency combined with reliability

From a smart metering point of view, NB-IoT can be utilized in various geographical environments, operating reliably in different field conditions. Especially in urban areas, the 4G/LTE network coverage is great and allows the deployment of a vast number of NB-IoT endpoints. In addition, security is highly considered in NB-IoT technology, as it utilizes the same security procedures as in any other 4G/LTE mobile communications. Cost-efficiency and reliability are the key benefits of NB-IoT. In addition, self-consumption of the devices is very low compared, for example, to a 2G/3G devices. This, of course, decreases the cost of energy used, and can also lower the cost of peripheral hardware, including power supply and super capacitor. 

High reliability:
NB-IoT operates on standardized frequency bands (such as LTE800 MHz), offering a controlled environment for radio communication. NB-IoT devices are completely independent of other devices in the field, which is not the case with all repeating technologies, like RF Mesh or PLC. Since it doesn’t require any data concentrators or gateway devices, its signal reception and thus SLA level remain stable – this also reduces maintenance costs for the smart metering operator. NB-IoT communication operates on the same networks as common mobile devices, and they are typically maintained by telecom operators who have a strong interest in guaranteeing high availability for communication. Telecom operators can also manage the volume of services using the NB-IoT frequency band to maintain the high reception. Compared to, for example, LTE Cat-1, the NB-IoT has far better coupling loss which also indicates increased reliability.

Communication costs for NB-IoT consist mostly of subscription costs and modem HW costs, which are a bit lower than for 2G/3G modems. Utilizing NB-IoT technology together with eUICC (Embedded Universal Integrated Circuit Card) technology, which is introduced simultaneously with NB-IoT, makes NB-IoT a very cost-efficient technology. With eUICC, the service provider can be changed remotely without touching the meter or changing the traditional physical SIM card. This minimizes the amount of field work and lowers the subscription management costs. It’s good to be aware of extra costs that might arise due to the creation of eUICC: a totally new business ecosystem will emerge around hosting and managing subscriptions. However, in the future, NB-IoT network costs are expected to decrease radically due to economies of scale: the technology will be widely used all over the world, and since it’s based on open standards, the number of vendors and other players offering NB-IoT devices and solutions will increase, and the increased competition will, in turn, result in lower prices.

What is the best communication technology for AMI?

LNB-IoT is a great addition to the wide selection of AMI communication technologies. But as always, there are some viewpoints that utilities should consider when it comes to NB-IoT. For example, ICG metering requires higher data throughput, and some applications, such as grid-load balancing operations, require near real-time latencies. These might pose challenges for NB-IoT technology.

When utilities select the communication technology for their AMI infrastructure, there is one guideline they should follow when making the decision: The communication solution should always be built case-by-case, based on the various field conditions of the utility. The solution might then be even a hybrid network with a mix of, for example, G3 PLC, RF Mesh and NB-IoT or another LTE technology. The choice should not be limited to just a single technology: The best communication technology for AMI is the optimal communication technology.

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