Smart metering: go digital to enable enhanced oversight

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Smart metering Internet of Things (IoT) applications have the potential to solve the efficiency, cost and time challenges of manual metre monitoring and reading. As utilities embrace the full potential of digitalisation and strive to become more sustainable, they will need secure, reliable, and uninterrupted IoT connectivity in addition to a seamless, automated way to manage connected devices, say Nora Farkas, portfolio marketing manager, Nokia and Gyorgyi Krisztyian, IoT marketing lead for Nokia WING.

eSIM and iSIM technologies coupled with cellular connectivity solutions provide a remedy for many concerns held by those across the utilities industry. Water utilities, for example, brought radical advances that enabled detailed insight into water supply and water consumption. This information proved invaluable during the pandemic, which caused radical change to traditional early morning and evening water supply peaks.

Utilities are able detect leaks more effectively and earlier with smart metres in both households and supply centres, reducing downtime and repair costs. Due to updates, like customised temperature and pressure alerts, systems have become more adaptable and responsive. This provides more transparency from distribution networks and allows for easier maintenance.

Australia’s Vodafone has used an IoT platform to create various IoT use cases for customers, including rolling out smart water metres with standardised protocols for fast endpoint scaling and efficient onboarding of devices, collection of data and application enablement.

With countries around the world implementing smart metres for effective gas, water, and electricity utilisation to prevent resource scarcity and set sustainability goals, Analysys Mason predicts almost half a billion utility IoT connections globally by 2029. But this poses a challenge for utilities and governments.

While eyes are focused on what smart metering can enable, it will require a reliable and seamless IoT grid to assure performance for smart metres across a massive scale, while minimising operational costs. Key enablers include low-power-wide-area-network (LPWAN) technologies, like Narrowband-IoT (NB-IoT).

Ideal for smart metre systems, NB-IoT extends battery life for mass-distributed devices over wide geographical areas and deep within urban infrastructure by combining efficient communication with low power demands. A pay-as-you-grow business model integrated with managed connectivity can boost competitiveness, shorten time to market, reduce costs and eventually improve the bottom line.

A new generation of SIMs

IoT devices connecting to a cellular network need a subscriber identity module (SIM) to be managed. Conventional SIM cards are unable to withstand harsh field conditions, thus a new generation of enhanced, industrial-grade SIMs, embedded subscriber identity modules (eSIMs) and integrated subscriber identity modules (iSIMs), will be coming to market for more flexible and secure machine-to-machine communications. eSIM technology is, and iSIM will soon be, ready for many other IoT use cases, including smart metering, in the next few years.

eSIMs can be physically embedded in devices and iSIMs are integrated at the processor level. Regarded as the next evolutionary steps in smart metre cellular enablement, both are software- and operating system (OS)-defined and enable remote SIM management (RSM) or remote SIM provisioning (RSP).

Moreover, eSIMs and iSIMs are more secure than conventional SIMs and offer various security improvements by being harder to remove or tamper with. The very nature of the integrated SIM introducing extra layers of security through a hardware-based secure enclave and maintaining the integrity of all cryptographic and key managed operations also provides further assurances to utility companies that it cannot be removed or swapped to misreport the amount of utility consumed.

They can also serve as root-of-trust (RoT) mechanisms for secure communication between applications, services, devices, and humans providing new, innovative digital transactions. The possibilities are limitless with eSIMs and iSIMs, with uses ranging from shipping and receiving to building access authentication, health monitoring and more.

Utilities will have the flexibility and freedom with these new SIMs to select the most suitable cellular service for their regions, and easily switch if necessary, without having to physically swap the SIM cards in the devices. eSIM and iSIM make provisioning simpler and more flexible. A so-called “bootstrap” profile can be installed on an IoT device to enable out-of-the-box activation, while cloud-stored provisioning rules can be applied remotely after deployment. Combined, these functions reduce the time and effort required for SIM installation and management, enabling more companies to adopt the technology and drive massive IoT adoption.

Moving software to a cloud infrastructure allows utilities to meet the increasing demand for real-time analytics to optimise assets, deliver smart grid resilience and improve scalability overall.

The future of smart metering

To help streamline shipping and device activation through one-touch cellular onboarding, eSIMs and iSIMs introduce new levels of service digitisation and automation. Digitisation is considered a must-have for utilities looking to reinvent the way they do business and interested in realising new efficiencies and greater sustainability.

Utilities and other enterprises can incorporate this technology and the broad cellular IoT coverage to reduce the total cost of ownership of managing IoT, all while enabling deeper insights and gaining competitive edge.

The authors are Nora Farkas, portfolio marketing manager, Nokia and Gyorgyi Krisztyian, IoT marketing lead for Nokia WING

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