• Smart Meter Deployments
  • Utility Networks
  • IoT
  • Network Technologies

LPWA Networking a Valid Option for Second Generation AMI Deployments

Richelle Elberg
Jun 18, 2020

Connected City 2

With many first generation smart metering deployments aging out, many utilities across the US are considering their upgrade path. However, before moving automatically to the newest generation of legacy advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) systems, networking managers should consider the low power wide area (LPWA) protocols gaining traction for metering and other utility field area networking applications.

LPWA protocols present low cost options for smart metering networks and benefit from innovations that have occurred over the past decade. Four of these LPWA standards are seeing increased use for utility AMI applications: Weightless, LoRaWAN, Narrowband Internet of Things (NB-IoT), and LTE Cat-M1. These LPWA technologies can be considered next generation point-to-multipoint (P2MP) technologies, as opposed to the legacy broadband P2MP systems that leverage licensed spectrum bands.

Installed Base Electric AMI Network Protocols, US: 2020

Installed Base Electric AMI Network Protocols, US: 2020

(Source: Guidehouse Insights)

AMI in the US has predominantly relied on unlicensed 900 MHz RF mesh systems, power line communication (PLC), or legacy P2MP protocols. But power lines can be prone to signal interference, and legacy P2MP networks can be expensive. Mesh networks are self-healing and require less transmission power but they are less able to handle rapidly increasing data traffic without new infrastructure.

LPWA Technologies Now Being Chosen for AMI Deployments

Broadly, LPWA technologies are less expensive than legacy AMI networking options and they have demonstrated higher quality of service, lower latency, and lower power consumption, paving the way for new distribution automation applications and smart city functions. LPWA technologies are generally narrowband solutions instead of medium or broadband solutions, which are present in legacy RF mesh or P2MP solutions.

Weightless is a bidirectional, synchronous LPWA technology for use in dense urban networks with a high volume of end devices. It supports all types of large-scale IoT applications and achieves low power operation, supporting battery-powered devices and powered devices on the same network. (This capability means that electricity meters, water meters, gas meters, and lighting can all exist together.) Taiwan Power Company (Taipower) announced Ubiik’s Weightless AMI solution as a winner in a nationwide tender in July 2018. State-owned Taipower provides electricity to the entire nation of Taiwan and plans to deploy more than 3 million smart meters by 2024.

LoRaWAN uses the unlicensed sub-GHz radio spectrum and Semtech’s proprietary chirp spread spectrum modulation, which is power efficient and offers a long range. In 2017, a network of 10,000 electricity meters equipped with Semtech LoRaWAN devices was deployed in the Calenberg Land region near Hanover, Germany.

NB-IoT operates at sub-GHz frequencies and is designed for low data devices and sensors. NB-IoT has the lowest cost and throughput of the cellular-based LPWA standards. In September 2019, Landis+Gyr announced it would deliver an NB-IoT-based smart metering solution to Olofströms Kraft, an energy utility serving 13,500 households in southern Sweden.

Like NB-IoT, LTE Cat-M1 is an LTE-based standard. LTE Cat-M1 consumes more power and its modules are slightly more expensive than NB-IoT. However, LTE Cat-M1 offers higher data rates, better downlink performance, and interference immunity. Verizon’s Grid Wide platform for utilities uses its LTE Cat-M1 network, which is promoted for AMI, meter data management, demand response, and distribution monitoring and control. In 2019, Verizon announced that Peninsula Light in Washington would replace its legacy PLC system with Grid Wide for its 33,000 customers.

Each of these LPWA protocols has their place in the AMI ecosystem, as do legacy protocols such as P2MP and RF mesh-based systems. Utilities must base their selections on their application needs and operating environments.

Guidehouse Insights to Host Webinar
For a deeper dive into the pros and cons of LPWA networks for AMI, join Guidehouse Insights’ Richelle Elberg along with Ubiik’s Jay Wey and Fabien Petitgrand on June 30 at 11 a.m. EDT. Register for the webinar here. A white paper with more information on these case studies and a detailed technical evaluation of these LPWA protocols can be found here.