IDIS Association: Selecting adequate communication technologies for a massive rollout
For IDIS, Jovan Vujasinovic
The second season of Smart Talks is dedicated to utilities and massive rollout.
Selecting adequate communication technologies for a massive rollout
In this first part of the interview, Mr Marko Mišmaš, Strategic Steering Committee member at G3-PLC Alliance, answered some of the burning questions we had about communication technologies and gave us his input regarding what utilities should do when engaging in a massive rollout. G3-PLC facilitates high-speed, highly-reliable, long-range communication over the existing powerline grid. It is currently the most widespread communication technology that utilities mostly opt for when going to massive rollout. Mr. Marko Mismas is the R&D Director at Iskraemeco.
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G3-PLC Alliance is currently home to you as a Strategic Steering Committee member. Could you tell us more about your work and the objectives of the G3-PLC Alliance?
G3-PLC Alliance is a consortium that was created in 2011 to standardize and promote G3-PLC technology globally. Currently, the alliance has nearly 100 members from the international smart grid ecosystem, including utilities, semiconductor companies, equipment manufacturers and industrial companies. The objectives are to maintain and develop the G3-PLC standard, promote and implement the G3-PLC technology and operate an industrial certification program to guarantee the interoperability of devices from different manufacturers.
We participate in the steering committee and in the technical working groups with the aim to continuously improve the technology for smart metering. Smart metering is the main application but G3-PLC is also used more and more globally in other applications.
Could you tell us what G3-PLC can do for users and what problems it can solve for them?
G3-PLC is a proven Powerline Communication technology offering the lowest total cost of ownership and independence on Telcos. It is a proven solution with more than >50 million devices installed in over 30 countries globally. The most well-known implementation is probably in France, with more than 30 million meters in operation and running well, it is widely used in Middle and south Europe, Asia, Africa and South America. There is a lot of active implementation running and active tenders recently launched for instance in Romania, Balkan area and in Egypt.
Benefits of G3-PLC are that it is very cost-effective. Distribution System Operators (DSOs) use their own infrastructure for telecommunication. The total cost of ownership is low as there is no need to install any wires, communication costs are lower as there are no telecommunication fees to be paid.
Another advantage is that because utilities use their own network for communication, they are not dependent on commercial telecom operators which have their own development cycles, with their own timelines.
And G3-PLC is by nature connected to the grid, which provides many inherent advantages: for example outage management, phase detection, grid cartography, and many others.
There is a strong alliance with almost 100 members, including utilities, manufacturers, consultants, laboratories etc. who share experiences, know-how and can help each other with specific questions.
Your strong technical background also makes you an excellent adviser on how to make a selection of adequate communication technologies for a massive rollout. How can a utility decide on the appropriate technology to use? Where would someone start?
a. Whom would you recommend PLC to, and who would you suggest mobile telephony to?
I would recommend G3-PLC to any utility in high-density areas with a reasonable or good network quality and staff to maintain it.
For the rural areas with low customer density, there are several possibilities:
G3-PLC hybrid solution can be used which combines PLC and RF
Combined PLC and mobile PTP solution can be used
For the areas with bad network quality pure mobile PTP is a reliable solution.
b. What is better, GPRS or newer narrowband IoT technologies, if mobile telephony is chosen?
GPRS is an obsolete technology and I would not recommend it to the customer. Sometimes it is still required by some of the customers as a fall-back technology if the main mobile technology falls down.
The main mobile technologies of the next decade are LTE-M and and NB-IoT.
c. Would you advise sticking with one technology or is it more advisable to take advantage of two or more?
There is no straightforward answer on this question and it differs from utility to utility.
From one aspect, it is difficult for a utility to manage multiple technologies. They need to train engineers in different technologies and always need to take into account the different technologies when analyzing problems or making improvements.
From the other aspect, it is impossible to get 100% coverage with just one technology. There are cases where customers opted for just one technology. Look at Enedis in France for example: they are running over 30 million smart meters very efficiently with 100% on PLC!
But to achieve a 100% readout, customers need to combine 2 technologies for instance, G3PLC & RF (standardized from G3PLC Alliance) or G3PLC and Mobile.
My team is working to provide a combined G3PLC & Mobile solution.
Comms are hot swappable on the field. This solution gives the customer 100% coverage guarantee and also longterm upgrade ability for users with services which demand more real time communication – f.i. high load users with load management capabilities etc..
d. If two technologies are combined, which two do you find to be the best combinations?
Combining PLC and RF can be an option to squeeze more from the mesh network. In open areas, RF can have a better range, but the signal can be blocked by foliage or buildings. PLC has better coverage in buildings and basements, for example. The good news is that, to combine PLC and RF you don’t need 2 solutions! G3-PLC Alliance developed the G3-PLC hybrid which is one single solution using both PLC and RF for communication. That is an efficient and cost-effective solution, combining the strengths of PLC and RF! The results with this technology in harsh grids are very good.
In midterm, we see that mesh technology will not be able to fulfil real-time requirements for demand side management and other smart grid applications. A really useful thing is providing a scenario on how to step by step upgrade mesh networks with PTP mobile users. With that, we can improve communication delay variation and throughput of specific end users and the whole mesh network. This ensures utilities that investment in G3PLC is also a safe long term investment.
To conclude, the first decision regarding a massive rollout for a utility is to create its own telecommunications infrastructure (PLC, RF, optical cable, own mobile network) or rent an existing one (mobile network). To create its own network, it is necessary for the utility to provide staff to maintain it.
No network alone can ensure 100% communication success. As there is a growing need for real time communication due to the intensive development and implementation of e-mobility and renewables, the need to use two telecommunications infrastructure is becoming more and more important. In practice, combinations of PLC + RF and PLC + mobile PTP appear.
PLC is proving to be a good solution in high density areas with reasonable or good power line network quality, RF is the best in open spaces, while mobile telephony is generally good and applicable solution. Currently, narrow band IoT and LTE-M are taking precedence over GPRS, which is slowly becoming an obsolete technology.
If the trend of using two communication infrastructures is followed, the utility has three options: to create two of its own; to create one of its own and rent the other; or to rent both. How much do you think this decision depends on the size of the utility?
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