Smart meters: Use GSM network for M2M data, says Danish researchers


GSM smart meter networkSmart meters and other intelligent devices should use the outmoded GSM system as a dedicated network, according to academics at Aalborg University in Denmark.

MIT Technology Review reported that PhD fellow Germán Corrales Madueňo and colleagues have calculated the capacity of the existing network and how it could become the communications backbone of a new generation of smart meters.

Mr Madueňo said: “Our findings shows that, with a suitable reengineering, GSM networks can support a surprisingly massive M2M (machine-to-machine) devices at even a single frequency channel.”

Data management speed

The news comes as the Chinese city of Macau is due to switch off the GSM network in June next year as the second-generation technology is superseded by 3G and 4G networks.

MIT Technology Review reports that GSM is becoming increasingly obsolete for smart phone users as it manages less than 300 kilobits per second compared to a gigabit per second for 4G networks.

However, M2M communication is more about efficient distribution than increasing overall data rate makes it an ideal vehicle for this kind of communication.

Smart meter data

Madueňo and his team calculated the numbers that are likely to appear in a standard suburban setting along with how often they are likely to send data and how much.

They assume that within 1,000 meter radius of a standard base station, with roughly three smart meters per home, there are likely to be over 20,000 devices competing to communicate over the network.

These range from smart gas and electricity meters sending data every few minutes, to credit card machines in local shops and even traffic sensors and movie rental machines. Most are unlikely to send more than a few hundred bytes at a time and often very infrequently.

Madueňo said that the network can be made more efficient by assuming that many of the devices will have very similar requirements that can be catered for en masse with some straightforward engineering changes.

These changes should make the network more efficient.

They go on to calculate that a GSM cell operating on a single frequency could support up to 70 messages per second. This translates into approximately 13,000 smart meters reporting every five minutes. That is 133% more than is possible with the current GSM network standards.

Competing communication standards

MIT Review concludes that Aalborg University’s concept is “an interesting idea” and it makes sense to use an existing resource for this purpose.

However, the review commented: “Although the engineering challenges seem straightforward, a more difficult hurdle will be getting global agreement to use GSM in this way.

“Radio frequency real estate is a valuable commodity, so don’t be surprised if there is a fierce battle ahead for those who back this idea.”