Gas Smart Metering in Italy: Rollout Update and Emerging Communications Technologies for Utility-Grade IoT
This IDC Energy Insights Perspective illustrates Italy's ongoing smart gas meter rollout and parallel multiservice metering pilot projects. It looks at the rollout schedule and the metering communication technology being deployed, the progress and performance being achieved in the field, and the challenges facing gas companies. It also analyzes some of the emerging IoT communication standards that will compete in the metering and smart city services space. Along with France, the U.K., and the Netherlands, Italy is one of the few major EU markets to have opted for a mandatory rollout of smart gas meters. The mass-market stage of the rollout started in 2013, in which 12 million gas customers will get a smart meter by the end of 2018, with 10 million to be upgraded over the following years. Italy's standard technical rule for smart gas metering currently restricts the choice of meter communication technology to only two options:Point-to-multipoint (PM) radio frequency (RF) communication between meters and gateways leveraging the Wireless M-Bus standard at 169MHzDirect point-to-point (PP) GPRS links between meters and utility systemsWhile 169MHz PM communication is the cheapest alternative operationally, GPRS is the most mature technology. This means several gas companies have started their rollout using GPRS, but PM communication will be the dominant option going forward, especially in areas with medium to high meter density. Currently, around 70% of all meters being delivered for deployment in Italy is equipped with a 169MHz radio module versus 30% having a GPRS modem onboard.In terms of actual system performance, meter reach rates delivered so far range from 85%-96% and from 93%-98% in PM and PP architectures, respectively. Concentration ratios in PM architectures tend to vary widely, with peak sustainable performance ranging from 500 to 4,000 meters per concentrator. However, the optimal balance between meter density, performance, and redundancy is reached in the range of 800-1,000 meters per concentrator.In the wake of the smart gas metering rollout plan, pilot projects have been promoted by the Italian regulator to test the possibility of sharing the gas metering network infrastructure among multiple utility services — namely water and waste management — and other smart city services. Projects have been launched collectively involving around 50,000 meters and sensors across multiple utility and smart city services and with 169MHz PM communication as the core field network solution.As this happens, the pool of Internet-of-Things (IoT) technologies designed for long-range, low-power, narrowband applications continue to evolve and grow, and so do alternative smart meter communication technologies. At least two emerging low-power wide-area (LPWA) standards are attracting the attention of Italian utilities and multi-utilities for metering and other narrowband, low-bitrate applications: LoRa (an open-standard PM RF communication technology using unlicensed frequencies) and Narrow Band-IoT or NB-IoT (the newly-standardized cellular LPWA technology for massive narrowband IoT applications).