Putting NB-IoT technology to the test


Metering & Smart Energy International spoke with Henrik Mørck Mogensen, senior vice president of electricity systems, Kamstrup to understand the company’s focus for 2018.

The future is very exciting – in 2017 we saw some very interesting developments. Kamstrup had a busy year as we delivered on AMI projects all over Europe.

There is currently a strong focus on the rollout of these systems and in 2017 we started seeing questions around how to better utilise the investments into AMI and how utilities can use these to support their business. This brings up questions into how they can use data, how they transform meter values and meter data from data to knowledge to decision-making power. This is in terms of how they serve the end customer better, providing more precise, more efficient billing, but also how they manage their distribution network and how they deliver the best possible quality of power in the most efficient way.

There is a lot of capital tied up in transmission and distribution infrastructure across Europe and this has to be maintained in a future where we are going to demand more and more energy and we are mixing and matching energy supply with both consumers and prosumers being part of the mix. Utilities will be challenged to ensure high stability on the distribution grid and need it to operate in a very efficient way, while distributing renewable energy and accommodating electric vehicles and so on.  Thus, they are asking how can they get more value out of their investments into AMI.

There are two elements coming in to play here – one is on the data and analytics side, encompassing machine learning, perhaps even going as far as artificial intelligence, can be utilised to make day-to-day decisions. Then there is considerable focus on the communication infrastructure of an AMI system because typically it has been infrastructure that has put a lot of limitations on flexibility and the ability to get more data, faster.

We are seeing technology being introduced that is really focused on machine-to-machine communication with the introduction of NB-IoT technology and we have seen traction being gained on this side.

From a technology and customer perspective the idea is to see how utilities can utilise these investments in infrastructure in a broad perspective because while many of these investments have been undertaken to automate billing, and because of legislative mandates, going forward, they will want to see how they can feed this into their main operational procedures. They could perhaps even expand their business or utilise these investments in infrastructure for other means than just collecting meter data.

The last year has raised a lot of questions based on both a complicated future for the utility, in which they need to manage demand and efficiency with the introduction of renewable energy sources which have a less predictable and less controllable production side; and with consumers that are put new requirements and expectations on their energy supplier.

Looking to 2018 we want to take the next step and to put these technologies into action and test them. To push the analytics side and to see what conclusions we can draw when we combine different datasets; what hidden knowledge is held in the data and how can we provide a different level of transparency on the distribution grid to enable a utility to make the right decisions. This would apply to both load balancing and investment decisions.

When looking into the IoT sphere, meter and infrastructure suppliers need to be put to the test to see which of these technologies are the right ones for AMI. We have spent many years trying to dissect and understand all these IoT technologies. We have worked with wireless for many years and we have tried to be sure which of these technologies are the right ones for AMI and metering and our conclusion is that it is NB-IoT technology. We feel it has the right balance between being price competitive while offering the right range, the right level of bandwidth and, quite importantly, the right level of reliability.

Reliability is very important because if you’re going to make online decisions based on the day-to-day information you get from the meters and sensors, you need high reliability on your data.

One of the parameters that we are very focused on is reliability and if you want reliability in a wireless setting you need to be sure that no one else is playing in that band. Therefore, our radio mesh solution operates in a licensed frequency band, or frequencies that are dedicated for metering, which allows us to deliver a system with very high reliability. Because NB-IoT operates in a licensed band we are confident in the reliability. Additionally, licenced bands do not fundamentally affect the price point, which is a very important consideration.

At the end of 2017 we made the call to go into the development and testing phase of NB IoT technology, to put these technologies to the test and to see if they can deliver on their promises. We firmly believe that they can and we are undertaking tests with Vodafone across Europe utilising NB-IoT technology to really assess reliability and connectivity. Additionally, the boundaries of the technology are being tested to determine the possibilities.

Equally important is for us to continue our close dialogue and partnership with our customers because while technology is nice, specifically if you’re an engineer, a very important step of what we do is to understand how this technology can generate value in the business of our customers.

We want, in 2018, to understand how we can also bridge the gap between this technology and our existing technology.

Our product is high-end measurement equipment that in itself is a huge investment. The lifetime of each of these is 10 to 15 years and so even though new technology may be battle proven in 2018/19, we need to bring a lot of our existing technology with us and that is a requirement that we as a supplier take very seriously and we are determined to understand how these technologies can coexist. We want to understand how radio mesh or wireless technology can coexist with IoT technology and how they can supplement each other going forward.

In the future I believe that we will see more of the mix of infrastructure, including wireless and radio mesh systems, along with NB IoT systems. One thing is for sure, the technology trends we are seeing across all industries is going to increase adoption of wireless solutions and we believe we will see this in Sweden where the rollouts which will continue until 2025.  We believe strongly in this shift toward wireless technologies, be it radio mesh or NB-IoT type solutions.