Press release

Technical report: Remote readout with long-range wireless networks

Automated reading and monitoring of water meters, early recognition of malfunctions and leakage: The remote readout on the basis of LPWA networks offers numerous benefits to water suppliers and municipal utilities. (Published in "Automation Blue" 2/2017)

An increasing number of water suppliers and municipal utilities are relying on the remote readout of consumption meters. Walk-by or drive-by solutions have been widely used so far in the municipal sector, where service staff can record meter data by walking or driving by without entering the property. This kind of system, such as the m-bus system Opera by the measurement and system technology manufacturer ZENNER are very efficient and well-suited if water suppliers require the consumption figures from the meters one to four times a year for the in_voice. If the meter data is required in shorter intervals (more than every quarter) for different applications and in the event that other equipment and sensors are to be read remotely in the future then the internet of things (or abbreviated IoT) offers many more possibilities. This can be used to transfer the data from thousands of 'things' quickly and in a cost and energy saving manner and across large distances. As a driver of digitalisation in the utility industry ZENNER has therefore already been relying on so-called 'Low Power Wide Area Networks' (LPWAN) for some time as well aswireless telecommunication networks with large ranges and simultaneously low enegy consumption in the end devices (sensors).

Reading many small quantities of data

An LPWAN is optimised for the transfer of small quantities of data across large distances of up to 15 kilometres. This means, for example, that it is ideal for consumption meters and sensors that can last for years with the power from one battery.  The frequencies have a good penetration and can also reliably into cellars. de pendig on which properties are involved the water management can use the technology for very many tasks, for example in order to read water meters every day, keepane ye on water levels, draincontrolchecks and treatmentplant and storm water tank monitoring. LPWAN is thus the technology for the digitalisation of the supply industry, but also the housingindustry and industry.  This is why the necessary infrastructure in countries like France and the Benelux countries is currently being built as a high priority and is also becoming mrecommon in Germany. Experts are assuming t hat by 2030 more than 70 percent of long distance communication will be carried out via LPWA networks.

Communication standard LoRaWAN and SIGFOX

For the development of LPWAN solutions for the internet of things ZENNER is relying on two communication standards. Firstly on the open, internationally increasingly established communicationstandard LoRaWAN, which was developed by an international non-profit organisation, where ZENNER has also been a Member since March 2016. On the other hand the measurement and system technology manufacturer Equipment solutions for the SIGFOX stand.ard. SIGFOX is a French company that was established in 2009 with its headquarters in Labege and that bulds wireless networks around the world to connect so-called low power-objects. Users are thus reliant on the network coverage of the relevant SIGFOX operator. With LoRaWAN, on the other hand, users have the opportunity to build LPWA networks that are adapted to their own needs. ZENNER is developing its IoT ready consumptionmeter both for use in LoRaWAN and in SIG FOX-networks and also advises customers from the beginning to builda LoRaWAN network.

Automated readout saves costs and work

LPWA networks are worthwhile for water suppliers primarily while the meters can be read with them periodically - for example every month, day or hour. This is optimal, precisely with a view to large customers: While readings are currently only taken in private households once a year many special contract customers in commerce and industry use monthly invoicing. These meters were mainly read using walk or drive-by processes to date. This type of remote readout is particularly fast and efficient compared to manual reading and there is no need for appointments with the building owners in order to gain access to the properties.  LPWA networks are the basis for the next step: They all ow completely automated readout. The meters transfer their measurement data at regular intervals to so-called LPWAN gateways. The data telegrams are sav ed in cloud-based solutions and are available there for billing or other applications (see infobox). Water suppliers can thus offer large customers a simple and regular reading and can substantially reduce costs and work. The automated transfer means that no reader is needed who drives to the properties once a month. Apart from the personnel and travel costs this also saves the costs for equiping the reader with mobile hand-held and receiver equipment and for the correct software. Fruthermore the water suppliers save time: They nee d not make the data plausible -as for manual reading or self-reading with a postcard – aditionally or ask for meter readings by telephone. The work for interim readings in the event ofa consumer change is also no longer necessary because the data is always transferred every day and is documented without gaps.

 Precise comprehensive reading date

The automated reading thus particularly means that precise measurement data estimates, for example for repeated absence of the consumer, are no longer necessary. In addition to this all meters in one or several properties, or even an entire city on a fixed date : While the manual reading or the self-readouts often take weeks, water suppliers can undertake comprehensive readings on a fixed date on the basis of LPWA networks. Based on the fixed reading date the utility companies are also in a position to precisely compare waterconsumption and sale exactly and thus to calculate possible water lossmore precisely and to track it. As the data is always current every day, it is also possible to carry out constant network monitoring without addtional work. Water suppliers thus have the consumers in their sights at all times and can react quickly if there are irregularities.

 Quick recognition of leakages and malfunctions

For perfect and efficient operational management all meters in the LPWA network are fitted withfunctional wireless microchips , that uses special algorithms to recognise incorrect installationsor functions and any mani pulation and transfer corresponding reports to the database. Thus water suppliers receive notification of over or undersized equipment or incorrect installation of the meters, for example against the direction of flow.

It is also in unusual operating situatin such as particularly high or constant consumption - maybe because of leakage, pipe burstss, defective toilet flushes or dripping taps the microchip in the meters will send a warning. This means that municipal utilities and water suppliers can react more quickly: They also report defects directly to the customer, who can then immediately make the repairs. Thus disputes concerning consumption and associated costs, for example for evaluation of results can be easily avoided. With regard to consumption security the suppliers can also offer their customers additional services: For example the visualisation of indivdual consumption in the form of a special app. LPWA networks thus allow water suppliers and municipal utilities to develop new services beyond automated readout of data on condition and consumption and particularly efficient and economical processes.