Reflections 01.10.2020

Juha Lohvansuu, Technology Manager, Aidon Oy: The right communication technology to right place

We are used to having information reliably available to us anytime, anywhere. New communication technologies make this possible, providing increasingly efficient connections and greater capacity to transmit ever-increasing amounts of data.

Electricity networks are also producing more and more information, which needs to be available more quickly. In the future, the meters will be sensors constantly connected to the distribution network and communicating in real time or in near real time. A straightforward conclusion could be that new communication technologies also provide a solution for the transmission of growing amounts of metering and other electricity network data. However, this is only partially true. In addition to speed and capacity, other factors affect the choice of the most appropriate data transfer solution.

Our customers, the distribution network companies, operate in very different environments, and even in the same company’s network there may be different areas of population and geography: there are apartment buildings in city centers with underground metering rooms having dozens of devices in the same space, and there are sparsely populated areas with several kilometers distance between houses. Between these two extremes are suburbs and agglomerations, detached house areas and villages, industrial plants and transformer stations.

These different types of destinations have different needs for data transfer. Information is needed from transformers in the event of a power outage, and circuit breaker commands must be delivered securely and quickly. On the other hand, more detailed information on electricity consumption and output is needed from sites with large and variable loads. Destinations also differ in terms of the availability, coverage and cost of telecommunications connections, since the mobile network coverage varies from region to region, and there are differences in the pricing of the operator services.

The factors described above form a complex equation which may not be solved in an optimum way with one communication technology only. Instead, by combining different technologies to a hybrid solution can take the advantage of the benefits offered by each technology in the most suitable locations for them. When the devices are located close to each other, for example in city centers and agglomerations, an RF network has been found to be a reliable and cost-effective option with high performance. On the other hand, in more distant and high-consumption areas a point-to-point connection based on LTE-M / NB-IoT technology is the most efficient choice in terms of accessibility, capacity and cost. The combined solution also enables flexibility and scalability during device installations as well as during the entire system life cycle, for example when the amount of data transferred increases or operator services develop.

Our customers don’t have to choose technologies. We do that by listening to the customers’ needs and critically assessing the suitability of different options for smart metering and power grid business. Our technology choices are always based on the assessment of their maturity and reliability for large-scale utilisation. In addition, we are prepared for the fact that as customer needs change or technologies evolve, it must be possible to upgrade the communication solution without having to change the entire system platform.

Our new modular system platform has been developed with this in mind: different device generations and technologies can work as part of it in parallel and can be seamlessly updated according to the customer’s own schedule.