The first generations of communication technology for smart metering have proven their worth over the last decade. But in recent years, requirements for data delivery and instant availability have increased and more systems and devices now need to connect in order to realise the full potential value of the collected data. As a result, the tried-and-tested technologies of today approach the end of their reign. A number of new technologies have emerged, all contenders for the title as smart metering communication technology of the future.
And the award goes to…
Some of the communication technologies currently available are evolutionary, rather than revolutionary. They provide the logical next step by building on what already exists – and works – today. But therein lies the problem: while paved with good intentions and promises of high performance, neither of these paths present a solution to the challenges of tomorrow. So what makes NB-IoT the way to go?
1) Flexible deployment and maintenance-free infrastructure
Because NB-IoT uses an existing infrastructure, the utility practically eliminates the need to deploy one of its own and as a result, the initial roll-out costs are very low. Regardless of their location, meters can connect to the infrastructure instantly, so the utility has the flexibility to deploy or exchange meters at random – wherever and whenever they want – meaning they spend less time and resources on planning.
2) The freedom to play with whomever you like
NB-IoT puts the utility in the driver’s seat by allowing them to piece together their ideal smart grid solution rather than being confined to the product portfolio of one supplier. In addition, being able to choose different suppliers for different parts of the system (meter, infrastructure, head-end system etc.) also provides security of investment because the technology will survive even if one of the suppliers does not.
That said, utilities opting for no strings attached should bear in mind that this freedom could at some point be at the expense of e.g. full functionality and security requirements.
It also raises the question of whether or not a multi-supplier solution will be able to match a utility’s business needs 15 years from now.
NB-IoT puts the utility in the driver’s seat by allowing them to piece together their ideal smart grid solution.
Ultimately, for a communication technology to claim true interoperability it must be usable worldwide and be driven by a large ecosystem of stakeholders …which takes us to reason number three:
3) Global support beyond smart metering – ALL ABOARD!
The NB-IoT technology can be used for many other applications than smart metering. Consequently, it is driven by an extensive worldwide community that includes telecom equipment manufacturers, mobile network operators and suppliers of communication modules and chipsets.
In addition to increasing the expected longevity of the technology, this also increases the speed and explosive nature of its growth and development, which currently promises a more or less unlimited potential.
Asking the right questions
NB-IoT offers high throughput, great range and full flexibility as an interoperable solution. While it requires utilities to put the network responsibility in the hands of telcos, it is backed by a worldwide community making it a safe bet for a future-proof technology. In the end, however, choosing a communication technology isn’t about having all the answers. It’s about asking the right questions.