Six myths about smart water tech

Sept. 26, 2019
"My cellphone drops calls. Won’t cellular endpoints experience similar problems?”

By John Fillinger, director of utility marketing at Badger Meter

There’s no ignoring it: smart water technologies, such as cellular and IoT-driven solutions, are transforming the water-utility industry in rapid, dramatic ways. Although a growing number of utilities are adopting the technologies, some utilities remain apprehensive. To help dispel questions and potential concerns, let’s address a few common myths about smart water technologies and explain why they are just that—myths.

Badger Meter's John Fillinger

“On occasion, my cellphone drops calls. Won’t cellular endpoints experience similar problems?”

The answer to that question is no, they won’t. Cellular endpoints operate on the LTE-M network, which is separate from the 4G or 5G network used for data and voice calls. They use the LTE-M network to successfully send small amounts of data, which is completed in fractions of a second. By comparison, cellphone calls involve higher amounts of data, are more complex, and often require multiple gateways to support moving devices. Since cellular endpoints are not moving and the data packets are smaller, the ability to successfully communicate and avoid dropping calls is removed.

“'I’m concerned about cybersecurity.”

Security is of critical importance when deploying an Automated Meter Infrastructure (AMI) system. Cellular endpoints offer multiple security advantages in comparison to other reading technologies, which make them a smart choice for utilities interested in deploying a system that protects their data from endpoint to the headend system.

Similar to all other devices using the cellular network, each cellular endpoint message is fully encrypted to protect the information as it is collected by the cellular gateway. Once the cellular gateway has the endpoint data, it uses a secure network connection tied to the headend software. This is extremely important because using a secure Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) network connection directly into the headend software eliminates the need to expose data to the public internet for transmission.

Finally, security should be documented and verifiable through third-party certifications, including ISO 27001 and SOC2. These certifications should cover the data warehouse along with the headend software to ensure all areas of security are covered.

“We’ll have to constantly update our technology.”

By 2030, IHS Markit estimates that nearly 125 billion devices will be connected to the Internet of Things, which includes utility-supported devices. While cellular networks continue to evolve with technology, the LTE-M and Narrowband (NB) IoT networks used to support water-utility AMI devices will not.

When the Third Generation Partnership Project (3GPP), which maintains and develops protocols for the mobile industry, introduced the LTE-M and NB IoT networks, it shared that they will be supported by both the 4G and 5G networks. The confirmation that LTE-M and NB IoT networks will be continued into the next generation cellular 5G network ensures longevity for cellular endpoint devices going forward.

“If I have smart water technology then I don’t need to spend as much on water meters.”

Water meters are the cash register of the meter system. Without a durable, accurate and reliable meter, the utility may not be able to capture all of the high, medium and low flows found throughout their system. For instance, because industrial customers use large volumes of water in their manufacturing operations, they are critical to many utilities’ success. If the customers’ water meters are reading inaccurately, utilities could lose out on major sources of revenue.

Smart water meters can consist of both electronic and mechanical meters, so utilities should work with a supplier that provides the right solution for the specific application, rather than forcing you into a one-size-fits-all meter solution.

“If we move to a cellular solution, I have to change out my Automatic Meter Reading (AMR) technology.”

Cellular IoT solutions provide a flexible approach to transitioning to AMI while continuing to manage your current AMR technology. Because gateway infrastructure is unnecessary, utilities can deploy a single cellular endpoint or cellular endpoints for all of their accounts to complete a deployment. In addition, flexible software allows the combination of AMR and cellular AMI technology together at one location.

“It is expensive.”

Cellular IoT solutions and smart water technologies are an investment for your utility. This investment should drive invaluable benefits that help manage and maintain water resources while saving the utility time, money and human resources over the life of the system.

By exploring the facts, water utilities can discover, as many already have, that smart water technologies are flexible, safe, cost-effective and efficient options for their water systems.

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