Cellular IoT – a new paradigm for utility communications

Modern mainstream cellular IoT technologies bear the promise of inexpensive, ubiquitous and standardized solutions for utility applications.
Published: Mon 05 Sep 2016

In the Networked Society, the Internet of Things (IoT) brings together people, processes, data and things to make connections more relevant by turning information into action.

There will be a full range of cellular Low Power Wide Area (LPWA) solutions for Massive IoT available during the second half of 2016 including Extended Coverage GSM (EC-GSMIoT), LTE Machine-type Communication (LTE-M/Cat-M), and Narrowband IoT (NB-IoT). The solutions are complementary and address the diversity of LPWA use case requirements and deployment scenarios while making best use of existing telecommunications networks. M2M and IoT will be supported by new devices, which trade throughput performance for design simplicity, reduced device cost, extended coverage for challenging locations, and extended battery life to 10+ years.

The solutions are being standardized in Release 13 from 3GPP (3rd Generation Partnership Project, the unification of telecoms standard development organizations), which are expected to be finalised in June 2016.

Value for utilities

Generally speaking, utilities are cautious about adopting the latest technologies but cellular for IoT offers compelling possibilities. As an enabling technology, it allows utilities to explore new services with new business models, increase revenue, improve operation efficiency and accelerate the digital transformation.

With standardized cellular IoT solutions, utilities can:

• Innovate faster with less risk

• Reduce the total cost of ownership (TCO)

• Avoid vendor lock-in

• Take a phased approach to architecture and deployment

• Ensure a predictable lifetime of assets.

Key strengths of cellular IoT

A comprehensive and forward-looking IoT technology strategy will leverage new investments in massive machine-type communication as we see an accelerating use of connected meters and sensors around us – and this is just the beginning.

Cellular IoT is built for massive Machine Type Communications (MTC), and can support millions of connected devices on one single site. It can leverage on great advantages of cellular including unrivalled coverage, well establised network security mechanism and quality of services.

Furthermore, Cellular IoT has extensive ecosystem support from global operators, device makers, chipset and network vendors. This unified approach reduces uncertainty and doubt amongst potential adopters.

Performance and choice

Poor reliability and patchy coverage are often the objections to cellularbased network deployments in utility applications. Cellular IoT is the first step towards networks being able to support different types of terminal devices with very different characteristics. By adopting cellular solutions that are differentiated from each other and designed for specific purposes, the utility company can ensure that performance requirements are met, including availability, latency, cost and maintenance schedules, to name a few.

The mainstream telecom industry is already promoting cellular IoT technologies based on 3GPP Release 13. When these are commercially available at the end of 2016, it is likely that Mobile Network Operators will opt to use these technologies to support massive IoT applications. This unified approach reduces uncertainty and doubt amongst potential adopters.

Cellular IoT for utilities – the conclusion

Cellular networks can support utilities to better meet their customers’ need for safe, reliable and cost-effective energy, and at the same time explore and expand their businesses to new exciting areas of delivery and service, independent of utility type.

No matter what energy-, utility type or which position in the value chain the business is in: Cellular IoT offers utilities the chance to explore with new business models and services – all at a rapid rate and with comparatively lower investments to alternative communications infrastructures. 


White Paper: Cellular Networks for Massive IoT – enabling low power wide area applications http://www.ericsson.com/res/docs/whitepapers/wp_iot.pdf

AT&T and Ericsson to deliver technologies that boost the Internet of Things http://www.ericsson.com/news/1988104?tagsFilter=IoT     

This article appeared in Metering & Smart Energy Interational Issue 2, 2016.

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