IoT-Connected Smart Meters Are Enabling the Internet of Energy

In 1859, in an unremarkable Pennsylvania field, oil was struck for the first time, changing an industry and transforming the world. Oil had many more uses than coal, leading to faster ships, warmer homes—and eventually the combustible engine.

The Internet of Things (IoT) is now poised to be the most transformative force in the energy industry since that black-gold day. But, as with all revolutions, digital transformation is disruptive, and innovation is needed to gain competitive advantage. The adoption of IoT technology means that the industry has increasing access to cellular data, and the market itself is starting to fragment as grids become decentralized.

To stay competitive, many utility companies have turned to smart meters. These IoT-enabled devices are more efficient and ensure more accurate diagnostics and billing. But one of the contradictions of modern life is that the technology that allows us to do amazing things often leaves us more vulnerable to it malfunctioning. And while smart meters are a great idea in theory, they can fall short without a consistent cellular connection—currently lacking in many environments.

That’s why businesses like Aidon, a progressive European technology company that specializes in advanced smart metering and smart grid solutions, are embracing Sierra Wireless Smart SIMs to ensure they have resilient connectivity. Promising reliable backend communication, Smart SIM technology is enabling the next step forward in the utilities industry.

The Challenge of Smart Meters
Aidon, which operates primarily in Finland, Norway and Sweden, is at the forefront of smart meter technology. Their smart meters offer a streamlined way of communicating with backend systems on important metrics, such as data usage and electrical quality. The meters monitor low-voltage grids and distribution substations, helping ensure the faultless delivery of electricity to end users. Utilizing their internal mesh radio solution, they collect data from more than a hundred meters in a local neighborhood into a local hub, where it is transferred via the mobile network to the datacenter.

As with all other IoT devices, this system requires constant connection. Lack of connection means a decrease in the agreed service level and, in regions with particularly challenging topography, such as the mountainous Nordic countries served by Aidon, that’s difficult with traditional SIMs. Aidon turned to Sierra Wireless—and Smart SIMs—for an optimal reliable wide area network solution.

Smart SIMs Provide Full Connectivity to Smart Meters
Smart SIMs are optimized for the IoT, with its wealth of connections, as well as for existing cellular structures. This is because they are not beholden to any one network. Instead, they’re programmed to automatically select the best available. If one signal is weak, the Smart SIM can easily switch to the next, ensuring unbroken communication with backend systems.

Every local hub Aidon deploys in the field is equipped with a Sierra Wireless SIM card. This Smart SIM allows for access to nearly every operator in any given location—anywhere in the world. By using a patented smart network steering technology, Smart SIMs can connect dynamically to the ideal carrier network any time a data-service failure is detected.

There is also an element of choice: The Smart SIM’s electronic profile can be defined according to customer preference. In other words, it can do more than just select the strongest signal—it can be programmed to select the signal that’s best for your meters.

This eliminates steering issues and eradicates the costly downtime that comes when a device must repeatedly hunt for an appropriate connection. We estimate that a typical utility company could save up to 30% over five years by making the switch to Smart SIMs. This also has the downstream effect of reducing costs for end users.

The Sierra Wireless AirVantage IoT Platform

But having data at all times is one thing. Managing it is another. Sierra Wireless’ AirVantage IoT Platform, can help utility companies take this next step.

AirVantage offers an integrated and easy-to-use approach to collecting and transmitting smart meter data. It’s a connectivity management interface that allows companies to order, place, and track all their SIM cards, as well as their connectivity subscriptions.

AirVantage handles all the management activities that are necessary to keep Aidon’s devices online and communicating. This includes:

  • Remote monitoring and updating. AirVantage lets companies know about and fix potential problems before they impact their customers.
  • Organization and storage of transmitted data. Each of your technicians needs to be able to access well-organized smart meter data. AirVantage makes that data available on a variety of applications, such as the portal that you use to monitor statuses and schedule deliveries.
  • Customer management. In the Information Age, customers demand the ability to understand and control their usages and expenditures. We can help you give this to them. The AirVantage platform can also be used in conjunction with the mobile apps many customers use to view and manage their accounts.

A Look to the Future: Smart SIMs and eUICCs to Unlock Every Market
Europe is leading the way with both smart meters and Smart SIMs. Some areas have yet to embrace the technology, but this wave of transformation is unavoidable and is beginning to spread to other continents. It is easy to see why. To harness the power of the IoT, other countries must start preparing to embrace flexible networking.

And it doesn’t stop with Smart SIMs. The transformation of the energy sector is ongoing. The next wave of Smart SIMs are poised to include embedded Universal Integrated Circuit Cards (eUICCs). These offer utility companies even more flexibility since they will allow you to change carriers by downloading new operator profiles over the air. Since the SIM cards in smart meters are designed to last in the field for 10-15 years, this will enable more flexibility, as IoT devices need to operate for years yet keep pace with changes in service.

It’s economically infeasible to send technicians to manually switch every single one of your SIM cards every time you want to change carriers. The ability to switch automatically ensures that SIMs will remain fully functional for the lifetime of the IoT device, which could significantly reduce service costs. eUICC systems have yet to be deployed in Europe but are likely to be rolled out this year.

This coming Internet of Energy will change the way utilities, businesses, and individuals use their resources. But like any great technology, the front end is dependent on reliable infrastructure on the backend. Smart SIMs give meters the flexibility they need to ensure full coverage, and eUICCs will help provide continued long-term viability in the field.

No matter the topography, no matter the country, connectivity is key to fulfilling the potential of the IoT. That’s why Aidon turned to Sierra Wireless. Our Smart SIM system allowed them to revolutionize energy use in challenging conditions. Start with Sierra to learn more about how our innovative wireless solutions can help your company prepare for the Internet of Energy revolution, or listen to our expert panel webinar with Aidon presenting.

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