Preparing for a mass rollout of smart metering in Lithuania, JSC Energijos Skirstymo Operatorius (ESO) has started the active testing of NB-IoT (Narrowband Internet of Things) technology. The pilot project aims to evaluate if meter data collection is possible by employing this technology and if its penetration in practice is higher compared to that of traditional communications technologies and sufficient to satisfy the needs of ESO’s business. Attempts are being made to identify whether this technology is sufficient for equipment control, maintenance, replacement and updating of software, a press release from ESO states.
© DELFI / Karolina Pansevič

Smart meters with integrated NB-IoT technology transmit data on energy consumption, energy production and the quality of energy, provided via mobile communications networks, to the ESO systems.

The opportunities this technology can offer have been tested under a wide range of conditions. The certified and metrologically validated gas meters have been installed in the homes of company employee volunteers, and electricity meters have been fitted in the basements and underground parking spaces of newly built apartment buildings or have been tested in ESO's laboratory as well as brought to potentially problematic points.

"The results so far have been pleasantly surprising – we see that the first installed meters in the region of Vilnius send information even from areas where other communications technologies (e.g. LTE Cat 1, 2G/3G) cannot ensure the collection of meter data," says Mindaugas Vyšniauskas, Smart Grid Architect at ESO.

"Applying GPRS technologies, the data cannot be collected when the strength of the signal is lower than 105 dBm, whereas NB-IoT modems transmit data even if the signal strength equals 115 dBm. The prediction that metal metering cabinets may screen the radiation of electromagnetic waves and so disable the transmission of information has been proved to be unfounded."

Although a screening effect is observed, it is not as strong as has been predicted and does not have any significant influence on data transmission. There have been some concerns regarding the functioning of the technology in the country's border zones, but no cases of malfunctioning have been identified so far.

NB-IoT is LTE technology that belongs to the 4G family, but specialists tend to ascribe it to 4.5G or LTE Advanced. The latter communications technology is seen as a basis for 5G communications that aim at the so-called Internet of Things.

According to Vyšniauskas, some of the most progressive technological solutions, which are still in their early stages around the world, are being tested in Lithuania. Next to the ESO team, two communications operators, Telia and Bitė, have taken part in the piloting project, whereas as many as three suppliers have provided meters for piloting: Apator (Poland), Pietro Fiorentini (Italy) and JanzCE (Portugal).

Project partners

For approximately a year, Bitė Lietuva has been actively testing the NB-IoT technology in its network applying it to various meters as well as to a large number of other devices.

"This technology could contribute to increasing smartness, for example in developing security solutions for communities or entire towns. Producers of NB-IoT technology-based devices all over the world are currently working towards various solutions," says Pranas Kuisys, Executive Director of Bitė Lietuva.

"The majority of the Telia Lietuva network has already been prepared for the commercial launch of NB-IoT. So we are looking forward to our clients' decision to deploy equipment that supports NB-IoT technology. An NB-IoT network has already been functioning in Denmark, Finland, Sweden and Norway, as it is a priority area for the whole of the Telia Group," says Andrius Šemeškevičius, Head of Technology at Telia Lietuva.

First in the Baltics

Pietro Fiorentini is the first producer to offer gas meters with an NB-IoT communications module as a final product for the market. The Portuguese producers JanzCE, meanwhile, are pioneers in the mass deployment of devices with NB-IoT for the smart metering of electricity.

"After receiving an invitation from ESO to provide smart meters with integrated NB-IoT, we immediately contacted our longstanding partner Pietro Fiorentini, which has presented the latest model of gas meters with an NB-IoT communications module," reveals Andrius Vitkevičius, Head of Vilduja, a representative company of suppliers in Lithuania. "ESO received the latest gas and electricity meters for testing and was provided access to the database to monitor the collected and transmitted data."

According to Vitkevičius, ESO is the first distribution operator in the Baltic countries that has been testing gas and electricity meters with integrated NB-IoT communications modems.

Great potential

Compared to other technologies, the smart gas meters with integrated NB-IoT that are currently being tested by ESO can send data in small packages, saving the meter's battery power.

"This technology also provides for the possibility of sending information from locations where a GPRS or radio connection is impossible, such as remote areas, basements and underground parking areas," the Head of Vilduja emphasises.

"We see huge potential for this technology to be used for smart metering and ensuring more efficient, fluent and safer collection of data," underlines Mindaugas Vyšniauskas, Smart Grid Architect at ESO.

The beginning of mass rollout of smart meters in Lithuania is projected for the end of 2020.

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