Telcos Eye German Energy Market

Telcos are playing an increasingly important role as communications providers to utilities.
Published: Wed 09 Mar 2016

With networks in place for mobile and other communications such as TV, it is no surprise that the telecommunications providers are making increasing inroads into the energy sector. [Engerati-Australian Telco Seizes Opportunities in the Energy Market]

Europe is of particular interest to these telcos, because smart meter mandates are presenting a number of new emerging opportunities. For example, Spain’s Telefónica, under its local British brand O2, is to provide communications hubs and connectivity to the South and Central regions of the country for the national smart meter rollout. [Engerati-Telefónica’s New Role in Smart Meter Rollout]

Vodafone has partnered with British Gas in the UK and Enexis in the Netherlands and is also involved in projects as far afield as New Zealand.

German smart meter market

Now the two companies have their eye on the German market, which is about to launch a regulated rollout of smart meters to larger users amounting to 25% of households by 2020 - a national rollout to all customers having been found to be not cost effective.

In preparation for the German rollout, Telefónica has developed the Smart Meter Connect initiative with a global SIM card (inserted into the smart meter) which can connect to any of the country’s four mobile networks, the programme lead Sven Koltermann, told Engerati in an interview at the E-world 2016 Energy & Water trade fair.

“In Britain we will be using the 2G and 3G networks and we have an RF mesh solution to cover the meters with no connection. But this solution can’t be applied in Germany as it doesn’t meet the requirements of the BSI’s data protection and security profile,” said Mr Koltermann.

A key challenge in Germany, in addition to that of the limited rollout, is that most meters are installed in basements with studies showing as many as 25% not being able to connect to any of the networks. This led Telefónica to build up its solution combining LTE and broadband over powerline (BPL). In this case the meter connections are via a gateway which serves multiple meters, unlike Britain where the meters will connect directly to the communications hub.

"Our aim is to provide the best solution for each market," he says, pointing out that the technology can easily be integrated into existing infrastructures.

Bringing in cable

Vodafone has a three-part approach to the German market. Dirk Hitz, Head of SME & Solution Architecture, Technology Enterprise, explains in another interview at E-world 2016: “Mobile is obviously important but as mobile won’t work for all the cases our second part is based on the cable network, which is also used for TV, and the third is powerline communication (PLC) to the utilities. This way our solution builds up national coverage over all the endpoints.”

Paul Haigh, Vodafone’s M2M Regional Manager for Germany and Switzerland, comments that the solution is “tried and tested” with slight modifications for the energy industry to meet its particular needs.

“Our challenge is to flex the technology already in place so it covers the energy use case. It’s not just monitoring the data but also switching things off and on in the grid. This requires a high level of quality of service and one has it in the mobile communications network and also in the cable network.”

Smart homes and smart cities

Looking ahead both companies highlight the opportunities that will arise with smart homes and smart cities.

“The architecture provides a good base for other applications such as smart home functionalities or grid management services,” says Mr Haigh. “These will be new business requirements for utilities.

Mr Koltermann comments that Telefónica believes that an open data, open source approach is required for such applications and is a founder member of the Fiware Foundation which is focused on standards for open platforms. “There are many opportunities coming up, of which smart cities will be one.