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SPECIAL COMPONENTS FEATURE By Cyan Technology Ltd. Evaluating communications technologies for developing economies Fast growing economies such as India and South Africa have rapidly increasing demands for power. Smart metering technology provides a two-way connection between the utility and the consumer that enables service development and interactions that support programs delivering energy security, affordability and sustainability. This technology is of vital importance in countries with rapidly growing, high- density urban areas, with high economic growth and increased aspirations for living standards within populations, such as these. As utilities evaluate smart metering technologies, it is not only the functionality of the meter, but the choice of underlying communications technology that is of major strategic significance and requires careful consideration. Factors such as cost, security, regulatory compliance, standards compliance, transmission range and power consumption are important in a communication platform. Wired vs. Wireless communications Utilities in fast-growing economies are currently able to choose from Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Power Line Communication (PLC), GPRS (cellular) and sub-GHz wireless to enable smart metering communication. While Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPRS and sub-GHz are all based on wireless communications, PLC is a wired technology. When it comes to choosing between wired and wireless communication networks for a smart meter, the latter is the most viable option. Wireless communications- enabled meters are simple to install and easy to commission. While PLC 28 requires reliable cabling to be in place to work, there is no need for cabling and associated wireline infrastructure in the case of wireless communication networks. PLC also has the disadvantage that signal attenuation/noise injection could happen due to properties of the conductor material of the cable, branching, echo and interference due to multipath propagation. Wireless technologies vary in their range, data throughput, licensing and applications and are increasingly focused on consumer content and high value services. Meters have a ten year replacement cycle, so the method of communications must persist over this time, regardless of changes in communication technology. In the early stages of adding connectivity to meters, GPRS modems were used. While this is a quick and easy way to add communications, not every customer can be reached with a GPRS signal and this can be an expensive solution, meaning GPRS isn’t always an effective solution. Whilst GPRS is suitable for use with mobile telephones, which can be moved into signal range, electricity meters are static, so where no signal is available they remain inaccessible. In urban areas, a sub-GHz standard performs most effectively as the lower the operating frequency, the higher the transmission range for the signal. Operating on sub GHz frequencies ensures that the signal can easily propagate through concrete walls and reach further. Sub-GHz networks utilise frequency channels that are always available unlike the licensed spectrum that does not have pervasive coverage, which could be because it is not economically viable to have infrastructure to support 100% in rural areas. Due to its range, sub-GHz systems require fewer data collectors to serve the same number of smart meters, thus reducing the cost of deployments. 1 Retrofitting legacy meters When building new sites, installing smart meters as standard is simple, but where legacy infrastructure already exists, it is not always financially viable to rip-and-replace static meter installations. A retrofit module provides a communication platform that enables smart metering functionality to installed meters, precluding the need for removal of existing meters and extending the life of the installed meter base. In addition to the two-way connection between the utility and the meter the module also provides on board processing and additional memory to the meter. The module is fitted to an electronic meter through the serial or optical port. As the module is designed to last the lifetime of the meter, the module firmware as well as the meter firmware (if the meter protocol supports it), can be upgraded remotely. This technology can be applied to prepaid or postpaid meters, depending on the most commonly available meters in the country. Conclusion As next-generation economies continue to grow and their evolution gathers momentum, the technologies that underlie the power industry must be scalable, sustainable and, most importantly, suitable. The rise of the Internet of Things and increasingly connected societies worldwide, demands communications platforms to perform. In order for this to happen, technology manufacturers must work in partnership with governments, meter manufacturers and local energy suppliers to ensure that the solutions they create and deploy today are ready for tomorrow and every day thereafter. MI Sources: 1 – design-choices-for-smart-metering METERING INTERNATIONAL ISSUE – 3 | 2015