Energy consumption is rapidly on the rise as global energy demands are expected to increase 37% by 2040. To meet this rising demand and to ensure efficient use of energy, utility companies are increasingly turning to IoT solutions, such as smart meters and sensors. These sensors automatically report energy usage data in real-time, and alert utility companies of potential issues and outages across their entire grid. These insights enable these companies to deliver services more efficiently, control costs and increase overall customer satisfaction. This is a remarkable breakthrough for utility companies, where traditionally all monitoring, assessment and maintenance activities were carried out manually.
Business Insider Intelligence estimates that the global installed base of smart meters will increase to 930 million in 2020, saving utility companies $157 billion by 2035. From gas and electric to water and oil, IoT-based utility solutions are aplenty, and so are their vendors. Mobile carriers, in particular, are aggressively rolling out several PaaS offerings using IoT solutions to deliver smart grid and smart city dreams.
Given that wireless carriers are already offering the infrastructure that enables IoT connectivity, it only makes sense that the carriers also offer relevant solutions to utility companies on their own networks. After all, it’s a much more cost-efficient alternative for utility companies than to build IoT solutions and the needed infrastructure on their own. However, getting buy-in from the utilities continues to be a challenge for these operators, and the primary reason for this is the lack of network coverage, especially in rural areas.
Utility modernization hinges on better connectivity
While the business case for smart meters is evident, without ubiquitous connectivity, carriers cannot deliver on the smart grid dream, let alone monetize it.
The reality is that for smart meters and sensors to seamlessly transmit data, connectivity is key. A B2B2C use case like that of an IoT-based PaaS is dependent on a carriers’ ability to deal with the issue of problematic dead zones. When a carrier approaches a utility company to offer such a solution, they are expected to support all of their residents without exception. Not long ago, dead zones were an important issue, but one that just meant you’d occasionally not be able to make a call or send a text until you returned to a service area or a building which had cellular signal booster. Now, these dead zones can become a potential roadblock for new product offerings and revenue streams.
Banking on technological solutions that ensure coverage
Fortunately, a number of advanced technology solutions are available that can easily and cost-effectively address network coverage issues, and help utility companies realize the full potential of smart meters, sensors and smart cities.
It’s important to understand that when trying to deliver IoT connectivity in rural areas, it’s mostly a network coverage issue and not about capacity. For example, by deploying radio frequency repeater solutions, carriers can significantly extend coverage at the edges of their networks. A repeater works by receiving and re-transmitting a carrier’s cell signal to extend network performance. In the past, repeaters were mostly designated for in-building wireless connectivity, but recently OEMs have developed repeaters that also work outdoors and can be placed anywhere near a power source.
If cellular capacity is needed in densely populated buildings or locations, another way to expand a cell network’s coverage is to utilize a distributed antenna system (DAS). A DAS is a point-to-multipoint solution that amplifies a carrier’s wireless signals to various remote nodes simultaneously within a particular location, which can be done indoors or outdoors. Devices within a given location would then receive a strong wireless signal with which to perform their operations. While repeaters don’t enhance cellular capacity, they do deliver more coverage across several square miles. One advantage is that a backhaul circuit isn’t required for a repeater, which helps speed and deployment while ensuring cost-efficiency. Leveraging both ensures strong wireless infrastructure to support IoT needs.
Sensors, smart meters and other digital devices have the potential to transform the nation’s energy grids. However, as providers offer smart grid technology on their networks and utility companies deploy them, it’s important to take a comprehensive look at the telecom infrastructure needed to transmit the energy usage data from the user’s homes to the utility companies. And for this, establishing better network coverage is key.
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