Masanori Fujita, Solution Architect for Sensus in Japan discusses the important elements surrounding a successful critical IoT deployment for a communications network. He also outlines the factors, like a dedicated network, that can make a big difference to the success of a smart network rollout.
What are the basic needs of a critical IoT network?
Many different companies and technologies within the utility industry claim to address the needs of the Mission Critical Internet of Things (IoT), and more specifically, hard-to-reach devices such as smart meters. They quote technological statistics and performance based on data sheet calculations, but fail to provide credible data or experience of delivering IoT networks of more than a few hundred devices; certainly not entire communications platforms guaranteeing the successful support of a critical national infrastructure.
Three crucial goals need to be met in order for the successful deployment of a smart IoT network to be achieved: reliability, security and efficiency. These can only be guaranteed with a communications platform operating within dedicated radio spectrum.
What is the main difference between dedicated spectrum and a shared network?
Interference! In order for many radio technologies to exist simultaneously, and with minimal interference, the wireless spectrum is divided into chunks called ‘frequency bands.’ These are primarily licensed bands, meaning that individual companies pay a fee for the exclusive right to transmit on assigned channels, within that band, in a given geographic area. This ensures that wireless operators do not interfere with each other’s transmissions.
Without regulation, interference would arise, hindering and often even preventing reception of the signal. However, licensed bands can be impractical for certain uses, such as short-range devices like home cordless phones, or links between a wireless keyboard and PC. Instead, these wireless technologies transmit in unlicensed frequency bands – spectrum reserved for multiple communications services and Industrial, Scientific and Medical (ISM) use.
Shared, unlicensed spectrum technologies do not require any permission or fee to use, as long as the systems that utilise the ISM spectrum comply with the strict rules associated with that band; importantly the limits of maximum transmission power and time spent transmitting. However, despite these restrictions, unlicensed wireless spectrum is always vulnerable to interference and noise, in part due to the plethora of technologies operating there.
How can you protect your critical IoT data from interference?
Only by using dedicated, licensed networks, can you ensure that the bandwidth is completely committed to the utility company. In the case of any intentional or even unintentional interference by others, legal action can be rapidly taken, with the full support of the regulator, to safeguard the allocated channel.
By comparison, multi-user/public networks, like cellular, operate on a non-exclusive basis meaning that they share the licensed network resources with other users and applications. This results in a situation where the utility is largely un-protected against intentional or unintentional effects from others.
Dedicated channels prioritising your data
Police and other national emergency departments currently operate on systems which operate on dedicated, licensed frequencies as it guarantees transmission of their data. Likewise, utility providers manage a vast amount of data that support some of the fundamental resources (water, gas and electricity) underpinning modern society. For that reason, industry bodies and national authorities have endorsed policies that state that utilities should also be able to use dedicated channels for the transmission of that critical data.
Those using shared or multi-user networks cannot guarantee that the transmission of critical data will not be lost, or cannot set such signals as being higher in priority than that of other systems sharing the band. One of the reasons shared spectrum cannot do this is due to the level of interference.
What does Sensus bring to the critical IoT industry?
The Sensus FlexNet communications network solution, based on long range radio technology, is the foundation of smart infrastructure for utilities and cities, whether it is for smart water, gas, electricity or smart lighting solutions. A single FlexNet platform can be utilised for multiple utilities with the following features: sub 1GHz point-to-multipoint in licensed spectrum; low infrastructure count, no street furniture required; dedicated two-way multi-application network superior endpoint outage management; built in redundancy; low latency for execution of critical commands; multicast – enabling efficient updates and demand management; open interfaces; optimised for both battery and powered end-points and field proven performance of >99% for millions of endpoints.
What Sensus brings to the IoT space at a global and local level, like here in Japan, is a passion for the technology behind the success stories. Sensus has over 170 years’ experience catering for utilities, so the evolution into smart technology was always once that made sense in order to continue supporting the utility industry in the best way possible.