Cost effective quality cellular communications in Smart Metering

Published by Emilio Martínez de la Fuente Energy

Communications are a key component of smart metering and grid deployments as they allow management and control of the grid network infrastructure. Different communication technologies can coexist within a smart metering project depending on many factors such as topology (urban vs. rural), meters accessibility, existing infrastructure, how critical the infrastructure to manage is or its ability to answer to technical requirements.

To take advantage of all Smart Metering benefits, utilities need a secure and flexible bi-directional communications infrastructure that allows the automation and exchange of near real-time information as well as enabling the adoption of new value added services and technologies as they become available.

The implementation of a digital communications network enables in the short term intelligent distribution grid devices like smart meters, sensors and self-healing technologies. In the mid and long term, those networks must prepare for future services that include capabilities for the integration in the Home Area Network (HAN), electric vehicles’ charging and solar systems and other distributed energy resources, offering flexible pricing programs and other Smart Home enhancements.

There are different technologies available to access the Automated Metering Infrastructure (AMI) in the field area network. The three main are low data PLC (power line communications), radio frequency (low and long range) and cellular in all its variants (2G/3G/4G).

The adoption of a communication architecture has to prove valid for the long term to meet the life span of the hardware. As mobile m2m communications and modules prices become more competitive, more utilities and governments are deploying mobile solutions in metering and grid deployments.

This is the case of the UK Government with the Smart Metering Implementation Programme (SMIP). SMIP is a UK government national infrastructure programme that will roll out over 53 million gas and electricity meters between 2015 and 2020. Telefónica has been selected as the Communication Service Provider (CSP) in the Central and Southern regions, with 23 million communication hubs that rely on mobile communications as the primary access technology to communicate with the meters.

Cellular solutions have several advantages. The most obvious is that the communications infrastructure already exists and is operated, maintained, and upgraded by the network operator, so utilities can rely that task to the MNO, reducing the cost and maintenance of the communications infrastructure. Only in the UK, Telefónica invests the equivalent of £1.5 million in their network every day to offer seamless connectivity for our customers across 2G, 3G, and 4G.

In cases where the cellular coverage cannot reach 100% of the meter points, cellular technology can be easily combined with radio frequency technologies to fill that gap. This is the case of the SMIP project described above.

Total Cost of Ownership
Business cases of cellular-enabled Smart Grid systems can match or improve those of alternative communication technologies (e.g. PLC, RF Mesh), by reducing the field operation and maintenance costs while delivering superior performance.

Main cellular advantages
Cellular networks provide an advanced and cost-effective solution for Smart Metering communications:

  • No need to build infrastructure
  • Multiple carriers available
  • Flexible deployment
  • Avoidance of network vendor lock-in
  • Standards based
  • High performance
  • High reliability
  • High scalability
  • Robust security
  • Strong ecosystem enables cost-effective deployment & operation costs
  • Mature technology supported by global standards
  • Highly reliable services with ubiquitous coverage
  • Strong commitments from operators and vendors on Smart Metering applications
Emilio Martínez de la Fuente
Head of Global M2M Product Marketing - Smart Metering & Grid at Telefonica Digital