Managed AMI service options save water utilities time, labor, and money
By Marty Mazzella, President, Ti-SALES
The benefits of Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) systems are many: they save time spent reading meters, for one, and the robust use data they offer helps to improve customer service, reduces non-revenue water (NRW), and aids conservation initiatives. However, AMI systems require complex network design, ongoing support, inherent security, and increased head-end server computing and storage. Not every utility has the financial, technical, or human resources to implement such complex network and software systems.
Fortunately, alternative delivery options can make AMI accessible for any size utility. These managed AMI service offerings remove the burden of system operation and maintenance from a utility’s overextended staff, letting the utility get back to the business of water. Let’s review what a traditional AMI delivery method looks like, and then explore how Network-as-a-Service (NaaS) and Metering-as-a-Service (MaaS) differ. Additionally, let’s consider how alternative AMI technology have expanded coverage and made AMI accessible for any situation.
Traditional AMI: high startup costs, complex deployment
In a traditional fixed network AMI system, the water utility is responsible for all costs as well as a complex deployment. In general, that deployment includes the following steps:
- Perform RF propagation study to determine collector sites and coverage
- Purchase meters, MIUs and network infrastructure
- Execute site leasing agreements and WWAN backhaul contracts with carriers
- Secure AC power, RF antenna placement, cabling, and proper grounding
- Deploy AMI network infrastructure while installing MIUs
- Monitor, maintain, and upgrade the AMI infrastructure for life of project
Traditional AMI network costs can be broken up into two categories:
- Startup costs include network design & planning, installation of network collectors, collector hardware costs, power and cable drops, installation costs, and software implementation.
- Ongoing costs include ongoing site & lease agreements, collector operations & maintenance, infrastructure hardware and firmware upgrades, personnel & vehicle costs for trouble calls, and WAN backhaul costs.
Between the up-front costs, the need for ongoing skilled maintenance, and the risks of network ownership, traditional AMI delivery can be out of reach for many small and mid-size utilities.
Network-as-a-Service: managed AMI service frees up utility staff
Network-as-a-Service (NaaS) is a managed AMI service solution that outsources network operation and maintenance. The utility doesn’t need to worry about design, installation, and ongoing upkeep for the life of the AMI project. As an additional benefit, a NaaS AMI solution reduces both the time and effort needed for deployment, all while creating a reliable, secure network solution supported by dedicated professionals.
With NaaS, the service provider takes care of all field and network operations, including:
- Execution of all site leasing agreements and carrier contracts
- Installation of collectors and AMI infrastructure, both initial and to support growth
- Maintenance and repair of data collectors and AMI network
- 24×7 network monitoring
- Proactive monitoring of alarms and trouble ticket triage
- Assuring end-to-end AMI network security
- Ongoing maintenance and infrastructure updates for the life of the project
- Network design to ensure coverage, redundancy, and performance
- Cloud-based resources to ensure high availability, scalability, and performance
By choosing a managed AMI service solution like NaaS, a utility can greatly reduce AMI starting costs as well as free up staff to focus on critical department needs. The utility attains the full benefit of an AMI solution with very low risk.
Metering-as-a-Service: next-level managed AMI service eliminates risk
Metering-as-a-Service (MaaS) takes the concept of a managed AMI service even further by wrapping the entire system – network components, meters, operations & maintenance, etc – into a single solution package. In addition to all the features and benefits of a NaaS AMI solution, a MaaS solution involves a service provider taking on the following:
- Providing all equipment, network components, meters and related hardware, software, and installation services to upgrade outdated metering systems
- Life-cycle upgrades and replacement of hardware as needed
- Ongoing operations, maintenance, and repairs to infrastructure for the life of the system
With a MaaS AMI solution, a utility can eliminate an upfront capital investment with a fully packaged solution and enjoy the benefit of a manageable, predictable budget for metering and meter reading – with zero risk and zero maintenance.
Flexible AMI: technology options for every situation
Traditional AMI technology – radio frequency (RF) endpoints relaying information to strategically placed gateways – doesn’t work for every utility. A sparsely populated rural area might not have enough metering connections to warrant the expense of a collector, or the terrain itself may present challenges for RF signals.
Fortunately, innovative technical solutions & state-of-the-art, infrastructure-free networks have made AMI more accessible than ever before. Low-power wide-area network (LPWAN) connectivity, such as LoRaWAN, extends coverage and reduces infrastructure costs. (Our LoRaWAN Gateway from Neptune Technology Group is fully compatible with existing Neptune R900 RF system assets, letting our utility customers migrate at their own pace with zero stranded assets.)
For the most remote metering connections, cellular endpoints transmit data over existing wireless communication networks. While cellular endpoints require a carrier contract to function, the utility saves on time and travel expenses by not having to visit those remote sites.
When evaluating a cellular AMI solution, it’s important to consider that a metering solution is generally designed to be in place for 15 to 20 years. However, cellular telecommunications technology and protocols change significantly faster than that, with a new generation of standards approximately every 10 years. This creates a technology environment where assets can become stranded, or need updating or replacement earlier than they otherwise would.
(Our new cellular endpoint is built on AT&T’s FirstNet® cellular network, the nationwide public safety broadband network dedicated to First Responders. This means FirstNet data is prioritized over commercial traffic, and network compatibility is guaranteed for over 20 years. The Neptune cellular endpoint is the only endpoint offered on FirstNet.)
The benefits that an AMI solution provides – time savings, more robust data, etc – aren’t just for the largest utilities or those with the greatest financial and staffing resources. Managed AMI service options like NaaS and MaaS, combined with flexible AMI technology like LoRaWAN and FirstNet cellular, can bring those benefits to any utility, no matter the size or situation.
Marty Mazzella is the President and Owner of Ti-SALES, a leading distributor of water and wastewater supplies and the exclusive supplier for Neptune Technology Group’s line of water metering products across all of New England and New York. For more information on Ti-SALES’s managed AMI solution offerings, contact Marty at 800.225.4616 or email@example.com.