Go digital to deliver the full promise of smart meters
Utilities were quick to see smart metering as an Internet of Things (IoT) application that might finally help solve the cost, time and efficiency challenges of manual meter reading and monitoring. But smart sensors are just the beginning. Yet as utilities move to harness the full potential of digitalization and strive for greater sustainability, they require reliable, secure and uninterrupted IoT connectivity as well as a way to manage connected devices in a seamless, automated way. Cellular connectivity solutions coupled with eSIM and iSIM technologies let them have it all.
A true game changer
Water utilities are a good example of how smart metering alone has brought radical advances — providing detailed insight into exactly where supply water goes, how much customers consume and when they consume it. This was invaluable during the pandemic, which caused radical demand shifts such as flattening traditional early morning and evening peaks.
With smart water meters, utilities can now detect leaks earlier and more effectively both in the water supply and households, reducing repair costs and downtime. Their systems have become more adaptable and responsive thanks to customized temperature and pressure alerts. Distribution networks have become more transparent and easier to maintain than ever.
Australia’s Vodafone has used the Nokia IMPACT IoT platform to enable a wide range of IoT use cases for customers including water utilities, rolling out smart meters with standardized protocols for fast endpoint scaling and efficient onboarding of devices, applications and data.
With many countries adopting smart meters for effective water, gas and electricity utilization to prevent resource scarcity and set sustainability goals, Analysys Mason projects almost half a billion utility IoT connections globally by 2029. But this poses a challenge for utilities and governments. How will their networks support those millions of devices — and how will they manage them?
The rise of new technologies
The first part of that question touches on the need for a seamless and secure IoT grid that minimizes operational costs and assures performance for smart meters on a massive scale. Low-power-wide-area-network (LPWAN) cellular technologies are key enablers of this, such as Narrowband-IoT (NB-IoT). NB-IoT combines efficient communication with low power demands that extend battery life for mass-distributed devices over wide geographical areas and deep within urban infrastructure — ideal for smart meter systems.
Evolving utility business models
The second part relates to finding the right IoT business model. Managed connectivity coupled with pay-as-you-grow models can shorten time to market, reduce costs, boost competitiveness and eventually improve the bottom line. Taking advantage of such a solution, a state-owned electricity company (SEC) in Indonesia turned to Huchison 3 Indonesia (3ID) to provide connectivity for the smart meters across the country. 3ID uses Nokia WING to enable a fully managed service offer based on WING’s core network-as-a-service and connectivity management platform. The solution can scale up rapidly to support SEC’s massive roll out of smart meters and manage IoT connectivity through a single real-time interface.
The next generation of SIMs
The IoT management requirement also involves a whole new way of provisioning and onboarding IoT device subscriptions. Just like mobile phones, IoT devices connecting to a cellular network need subscriber identity modules (SIMs) to be managed. Conventional SIM cards can fail in harsh field conditions, but a new wave of robust, enhanced, industrial-grade SIMs is coming to market for machine-to-machine (M2M) communications: embedded subscriber identity modules (eSIMs) and integrated subscriber identity modules (iSIMs).
eSIMs and iSIMs are software- and operating system (OS)-defined. eSIMs can be physically embeded in devices and iSIMs are literally integrated at the processor level. Both enable remote SIM management (RSM) or remote SIM provisioning (RSP), which are widely regarded as the next evolutionary steps in smart meter cellular enablement.
A vast range of possibilities
eSIMs and iSIMs are more secure than conventional SIMs. They’re harder to remove or tamper with. They can also serve as root-of-trust mechanisms linked to digital identities for secure communication between devices, services, applications and humans — facilitating all kinds of new, innovative digital transactions, seamlessly and automatically. The sky is really the limit for these, anything from shipping and receiving to building access authentication, health monitoring and more. Network operators can add further security at the access point to control the path of trust and obviate the need for complex credentials or extensive device encryption, saving even more power.
These new SIM technologies give utilities the freedom and flexibility to select the most cost-effective cellular service for their region or regions. They also make provisioning simpler and more flexible: while a so-called “bootstrap” profile may be installed on an IoT device for out-of-the-box activation, cloud-stored provisioning rules can be applied remotely after deployment. That means utilities can eliminate time and effort installing physical SIMs into devices — a scenario that, combined with 5G and remote subscription management, enables more companies to adopt the technology and drive toward massive IoT.
Moving software to a cloud infrastructure improves scalability and lets mobile network operators help utilities meet increasing demand for real-time analytics to optimize assets and deliver smart grid resilience.
The smart metering future is here
eSIMs and iSIMs can bring new levels of service digitization and automation and help streamline shipping and device activation through one-touch cellular onboarding. All this is good news for utilities looking to go further with digitalization, which is considered a must-have for realizing new efficiencies, greater sustainability and, ultimately, reinventing the ways they do business.
eSIM technology is — and iSIM will soon be — ready for smart metering and many other IoT use cases. Utilities and other enterprises can take advantage of this technology and the broad cellular IoT coverage to reduce the total cost of ownership of managing IoT, get better insights and gain competitive edge.