NNNCo announces water utility IoT trials

A series of in-field and lab trials across Melbourne with South East Water, Yarra Valley Water, and City West Water were successful in showcasing its data, coverage, and battery life capabilities, NNNCo has said.
Written by Corinne Reichert, Contributor

Australian LoRaWAN network operator the National Narrowband Network Company (NNNCo) has announced undertaking trials with Melbourne's metropolitan water utilities, testing the coverage, data delivery, and battery life of digital water metering.

According to NNNCo, in-field trials alongside City West Water, South East Water, and Yarra Valley Water took place on the Mornington Peninsula and in Melbourne's CBD to test radio communications coverage and data delivery reliability.

"The in-field trials tested performance across a range of topographies. It found that NNNCo's LoRaWAN system is a resilient communications network when multi-gateway coverage is provided," said Andrew Forster-Knight, Group Manager Intelligent Systems, at South East Water, which is also trialling IoT solutions with Huawei and Vodafone.

"It is clear from our testing and evaluation that the system could feasibly provide data communication coverage to support a digital meter reading solution across rural, urban, and CBD topographies."

Also under the Digital Metering Joint Program with the water utilities, NNNCo carried out separate lab trials, testing the uplink and downlink capabilities of its devices in sleep mode to show that they have a battery life of around 15 years.

Having battery-efficient wireless sensor networks and devices is "of paramount importance", Yarra Valley Water's Digital Metering program director Raghu Bharadwaj said, given the high cost of replacing water meters.

The smart water solution, which is powered by the Actility ThingPark IoT software platform, also has multi-cast functionality built in to enable group communications, which NNNCo said can scale to millions of devices.

This feature was likewise labelled as being "essential" by Bharadwaj, who said utilities can enhance device performance without needing to dispatch teams into the field.

"A key differentiator for NNNCo is our ability to deliver a flexible and highly secure managed network, onsite or offsite, with feedback capability from devices because of LoRaWAN's true bi-directional capabilities, all while keeping power consumption low and maximising battery life," NNNCo CEO Rob Zagarella said.

Earlier this month, NNNCo CTO Eric Hamilton argued that traditional cellular networks are not required for IoT connectivity, as LoRaWAN is able to fulfil the needs of connecting millions of devices.

"If cellular is the answer, it's possible you've been asking the wrong question," Hamilton said.

"It's very, very clear as well that for low-cost sensors, and for low-power usage, and for a broad range of different applications, there's no need to actually be within a cellular environment."

Tests of NNNCo's LoRaWAN network across the entirety of Melbourne have seen no issues come up, Hamilton said at the time; the company did not lose any packets during trials, and is "very comfortable that LoRaWAN technology can and will work in this environment".

The NNN currently being rolled out across the country with Actility is aimed specifically at connecting utilities and agriculture with a more affordable solution than traditional mobile networks, Zagarella has previously said.

NNNCo in June announced forming a joint-venture company called Connected Country to construct and manage a nationwide LoRaWAN IoT network in partnership with Discover Ag, to be built in extension to its previously announced network.

Connected Country's Rural IoT Network is aimed at providing low-cost connectivity to farmers to enable them to deploy IoT devices and solutions. The bi-directional communication capabilities allows farmers to not only receive data, but also control water infrastructure, track assets, deploy feeding and watering functions, and signal during emergencies.

The announcement followed trials of LoRaWAN technology with Ergon Energy in Queensland last year, with NNNCo earlier this year also launching three IoT and machine-to-machine devices for use on LoRaWAN networks with Murata: Demand response enabling devices; a controller for smart streetlights; and a device that accepts inputs from sensors and sends data over LoRa networks.

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