Communication technologies
Data reliability
Operational efficiency

Data-driven utilities require expert-driven communication networks

By Rasmus Krigslund, Senior Specialist, Wireless Communication at Kamstrup

A robust communication network is key for utilities to get the data they need. But the area is complex – from technology choice to operation – and the stakes are high. Leaving network responsibility to a specialized service partner allows utilities to concentrate on transforming data into value.

Today, more and more utilities are moving towards using their smart meter data for much more than billing purposes. The cases and experiences many utilities are now sharing underline the importance of always having a full picture of the energy consumption throughout your network – with a complete set of data to analyse and build on.

As each missing data point introduces an uncertainty that weakens your data foundation, you are reliant on a robust and reliable communication network guaranteed to collect and deliver all your data.

Transmission setup

Needs before technology

Not only is the collection of your data business critical. Enabling wireless meter reading also involves a huge investment. And the sheer number of communication technologies to choose from is a challenge in itself. Reading up on the different options, you get the impression that they would all meet your needs. In theory, they just might. But there’s more to it than that – especially since a utility will often be adding thousands of metering points to a network.

It comes down to considering your unique data needs – for the next ten years minimum – which leads to questions like whether to go for a dedicated network? And if you decide to outsource network responsibility to a third party offering IoT connectivity, what kind of users will you then be sharing the network with? Did the operator design it for, e.g., outdoor coverage only or also deep indoor locations? What assumptions was it based on – and how do they match your application?

Each of the technologies available today have some degree of built-in adaptivity so that they can continue delivering high quality of service in spite of variations in the wireless environment. But this also means that the units will compensate for those variations by using more energy per transmission, which affects their lifetime.

Transmission setup
In other words, by using an operator whose network only just matches the needs of your application, you might find yourself having to replace your units a lot sooner than planned – compromising the business case for your investment.

A look at some of the contenders

The competing IoT communication technologies each offer different capabilities. Some use more power than others and may therefore only allow one transmission per day unless you are willing to compromise on lifetime. Some require all new network equipment to establish coverage, while others can be deployed as minor hardware upgrades to existing network equipment. Some are only offered through a third-party operator, while others allow you to own and operate your own network.

Depending on the application, each technology has its pros and cons, so finding the best match comes down to the individual requirements for data, lifetime and convenience. One thing to keep in mind is that these technologies target the entire IoT spectrum – meaning everything in the consumer space from trackable dog collars to intelligent washing machines.

There will therefore potentially be countless different units with different needs on these networks, which is also why most network suppliers avoid giving performance guarantees. Utilities will have to consider if this is good enough for critical applications using data to conserve our scarce resources and reduce carbon footprint.

And finally, one thing is the lifetime of the actual product but is it realistic to expect that a technology will remain relevant and competitive 16 years from now? Who knows what the technology landscape will look like in just five years’ time – let alone beyond that timescale.

Networks – a necessary evil

Ultimately, being able to evaluate the pros and cons of the many different technologies – against each other as well as against your individual needs – requires an in-depth understanding of each of them. But more importantly, utilities don’t actually need a network. They never have.

Just like people don’t buy a drill for the drill itself, but for the holes it makes, you could say that communication networks have been a necessity for utilities, rather than core to their business. Because what they are really after is the frequent, high-quality data the ideal network delivers – without having to worry about how they got it.

This is a perfect example of why we at Kamstrup are driven by getting to the core of what our customers really need to succeed and how we can deliver that in the best possible way. Our Network as a Service (NaaS) offering is a testament to that ambition.

Transmission and Communication Tower Inspection
Transmission and Communication Tower Inspection

Walking the talk

Kamstrup has been giving performance guarantees ever since we started offering communication systems. But with NaaS, we step up our commitment by taking responsibility for delivering exactly the quality of data specified by our customers. This includes guaranteeing not just the uptime of the infrastructure components, but the performance of the entire network all the way to the meter.

As a result, instead of making a double-digit million range investment in a full network, utilities can subscribe to it as a service – converting it into operating costs instead. And in the event of a problem, you avoid facing suppliers with conflicting interests. With Kamstrup supplying both connectivity and the meters, you essentially pay for the peace of mind knowing that it is on us to replace meters, establish alternative coverage, etc.

Finally, by outsourcing network operation this to an experienced expert, utilities take away the need for maintaining those competencies and know-how inhouse. This means you, as utility professionals, can focus on turning your data-driven insights into value for you and your end users.

Connection points

Creating data-driven progress

Whether we’re talking optimized operations, value-adding services, or accelerating the green transition, creating progress for our customers has always been our number one priority. And today, with data as the ultimate enabler for all of the above, there was never a better time for us to apply what we do best to help utilities do the same.
Connection points

Network as a Service

Leave all the hassle of a communication network to Kamstrup

In short: what is Network as a Service exactly, and what could it mean for our clients?

  • Our clients are guaranteed to have a working data collection solution in place for the contracted period of minimum 12 years.
  • Clients hand over all related risks and responsibilities.
  • They can calculate with a stable network budget with a fixed annual price per metering point.
  • They can focus on tasks related to their core business, such as analysis of data and optimization.
  • They will have one single supplier with responsibility for the entire network solution.