Posted on Friday, January 8, 2021 by Lauge Andreas Kjær

RF or cellular IoT? Sometimes you CAN have it both ways.

Cellular IoT will eventually replace RF-technology, but rest assured that there is plenty of time to make the transition in the pace you want. So how will you do it?

The good ol’ advice of letting your challenges determine your tools still stands; when figuring out whether cellular IoT or RF-technologies are right for you, you should assess the fit of the tech and your concrete challenges rather than the specifications of the tech. Once you’ve completed this crucial initial step, you can start looking at the possible solutions and choose the one that’ll do you good.

You should know, however, that the industry is turning towards cellular IoT – albeit more like a supertanker than a speedboat. Thus, it’s important to stress that RF-technology is not becoming obsolete any time soon. It will continue to function with all its perks and pros, regardless of this slow, gradual shift in focus.

Besides, cellular IoT devices can be added along the way, so it truly is up to the individual utility to choose if it wants to take the plunge in one major overhaul or paddle in, making the transition little by little.

It doesn’t have to be either-or

It’s key to keep in mind that it’s not all or nothing. You don’t have to replace all your equipment, nor do you have to cease investing in RF – especially not if it’s the best solution to a challenge your experiencing. As mentioned, the task you’re seeking to solve should decide what tools to use. Thinking this way might also be helpful when planning how and when to begin adding cellular IoT devices to your network.

Have new properties been built outside of your radio network, but within your supply area? If those properties have good cellular coverage, it’s the perfect opportunity to install  cellular IoT devices.

Perhaps, you’d like to collect more data in your supply area? Well, that’s an excellent reason to begin incorporating cellular IoT.

Or you need time to become familiar with the tech in a pace that suits your organisation, leading you to start adding cellular IoT devices to your meter population early.

Maybe there’s another reason why radio alone isn’t looking to be capable of covering all the different needs in your supply area in the future. When you understand your specific challenges and know the strengths of cellular IoT and RF you can pick your own path towards your ideal situation.

Cellular IoT: The pros

In recent years, cellular IoT, e.g. NB-IoT and Cat M, has gained a lot of ground. And for good reasons. It has matured and is now widely adopted. It’s an option that offers an extreme degree of flexibility and freedom. Flexibility to deploy and change meters independently of each other, wherever and whenever you like. And freedom to piece together the ideal smart grid solution rather than being confined to a single supplier’s product portfolio.

The latter point is worth noticing, since being able to choose different suppliers for different parts of the system provides security of investment. It’ll limit any losses that may arise in case a supplier discontinues a product line or closes altogether.

Cellular IoT uses telcos’ existing networks. This means you don’t have to establish your own infrastructure, making the initial roll-out costs of cellular IoT very low. Furthermore, it’s not just the costs associated with establishing the infrastructure you’re spared – you’re also free from expenses related to operating and maintaining it.

RF technology: The pros

Radio mesh has been around for quite a while now. It’s a solid and robust technology, which has proven its worth and been refined upon to have its kinks ironed out. It just works!

Another advantage of its seniority is that you know what you’re getting. You know how it works, what it can and cannot, plus you and your supplier are familiar with operating and maintaining it. With RF, you can count on a steady, high level of performance.

Moreover, you own the infrastructure and thus, no one but you use it. This gives you consistently strong signal strength and the freedom to make changes to your network. In case of connectivity issues, meters using RF-technology will just re-route and re-connect to another concentrator, in a different part of your network. In other words: The network is self-healing.

Finally, radio mesh has ultra-low data-transmission costs, which won’t change over time, giving you a clear cost picture that you can count on.

To summarise…

Cellular IoT pros:

  • Widely adopted in many locations around the world.
  • Flexibility to deploy meters independently.
  • Freedom to piece together the ideal solution.
  • Provides security of investment by not relying on a single technology supplier.
  • Lower initial investment.
  • Very few expenses related to operating and maintaining the infrastructure.
  • Higher data capacity.

RF-technology pros:

  • Solid and tried technology that you’re familiar with.
  • A one-supplier solution ensures you don’t have to make any compromises on functionality.
  • You own the infrastructure and have complete control.
  • RF-networks are self-healing.
  • Ultra-low transmission costs that don’t change, giving you a clear cost picture.

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