US based Sensus — which has developed a proprietary long-range radio technology for smart metering — has partnered with BAI (formerly Broadcast Australia) to provide smart metering services to Australian utilities.
BAI operates an Australia-wide network of radio towers (many of them supporting Australia’s mobile radio networks) that would be used to locate the base stations for Sensus’ FlexNet radio network.
This is Sensus’ second attempt to break into the Australian market. In 2010 it announced a partnership with UXC subsidiary Fieldforce Services to promote its wireless network and smart metering systems in Australia, but nothing has come of that relationship to date.
At the time, Sensus said: “As Australia implements major smart grid initiatives, Fieldforce hopes to cement its role as the leading supplier of conservation services to Australians through the FlexNet offering.” However, the announcement gave no indication of how the FlexNet smart metering network would be rolled out.
Now, Sensus says that it and BAI will “design, supply and install a digital infrastructure that will enable utilities to remotely and continuously monitor and diagnose problems and pre-emptively prioritise and manage maintenance issues. Data from smart sensors, including meters, will ensure the reliable, safe and cost-effective delivery of water and energy through improved operational efficiency and customer engagement.”
FlexNet trials in Victoria
Sensus’ FlexNet radio technology that can operate at multiple frequencies. Mary Wilson, director of smart metering for Sensus Australia, told IoTAustralia “We can operate anywhere from 200MHz to 900MHz. In Australia we are working with the ACMA to look at spectrum availability. … We have allocated spectrum in Victoria [in the 500MHz band] and we are taking a look at who owns spectrum in other key spots and at the opportunity of partnering with them.”
She explained that the lower frequencies were preferable because water meter are often located in building basements where high frequency signals cannot reach. “We, and BAI, are working on some consultation papers and with some consultants to ensure we get some frequency bands allocated. … We want to futureproof our solution by ensuring we get the bandwidth at the frequencies we need.”
Wilson said that Sensus hoped to be able to offer services soon. “We are talking to several utilities but specifically about smart metering and digital metering service. Victoria has a head start in the electricity market, but there is a lot more to do.”
She said that pilot projects were already underway with utilities in Victoria. She declined to say what type of utilities these were with, but did say: “We already do business in Australia with other partners, including a water meter distributor, so that gives us exposure to the market.”
Range up to 40kms
Wilson said range of the FlexNet network would depend on the number of sensors in an area. “If there is a small number of devices the range can be anywhere from 20 to 40kms.” She said that Sensus expected BAI to have sufficient infrastructure in high density areas where ranges will be shorter to give the company the coverage it requires.
FlexNet, Wilson said, has several advantages over other radio technologies being used for smart metering in Australia. “We can talk direct to the endpoint versus relying on multiple hops and we also have a very high first time connect rate. When a meter is installed you want it to connect first time. You don’t want to have to go and do multiple truck rolls.”