Four Trends Shaping Water Metering in 2020

technologies for water utilities

Technologies such as LTE, IoT and advanced communication have allowed water utilities improve control of their water systems.

By John Fillinger

The previous decade saw the introduction and growth of smart water advancements in the water metering industry. Technologies such as LTE, IoT and advanced communications systems, have allowed water utilities around the world, and especially in the United States, to improve control of their water systems and better understand them. As the industry moves into a new year and decade, the growth of these technologies is expected to not only increase but also help revolutionize water system management for decades to come.

Here are four of the top trends shaping water metering in 2020:

1. Growth of IoT-Enabled Networks

The adoption of cellular technology in water metering solutions is opening the door to new opportunities and greater flexibility for utilities. Most cities — large and small — already have cellular infrastructure in place. By implementing Internet of Things (IoT)-enabled cellular networks, cities can benefit from longer battery lifespan, greater scalability and increased mobility as well as easier integration of smart sensors for water, parking meters, lights, transportation and more without duplicating infrastructure. Smarter solutions, powered by cellular and IoT-based technologies, are rapidly transforming the water metering industry and helping water utilities face the challenges ahead.

2. The Value of Resiliency

Droughts, flooding, storms and other weather-related events are top of mind for water utilities because of the potential impact they can have on water quality and water systems. They are one of the factors behind a requirement in America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2018 for community water systems serving more than 3,300 people to develop or update risk assessments and emergency response plans. The risk assessments include strategies and resources to improve the resilience of the system, such as actions to protect the safety and supply of drinking water as well as the physical security and cybersecurity of the system.

The resiliency of cellular networks is one of the most important benefits of cellular-enabled technologies. After major weather events, cellular networks typically come back online fast to support emergency efforts. This means a water utility using cellular networks would be back online quickly, too.

Cybersecurity also continues to be a growing concern. In the American Water Works Association’s (AWWA) 2019 State of the Industry survey, 88 percent of participants said cybersecurity was a high priority issue and nearly 30 percent rated it as critical. Actionable data, provided through automated metering infrastructure systems, are helping utilities address these concerns.

Over the past few years, the water metering industry is seeing more and more endpoint data that is encrypted to protect the information as it is collected by the cellular gateway. Once the cellular gateway has the endpoint data, it uses a secure network connection tied to the head-end software. This level of security is extremely important because using a secure Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) network connection direct into the head-end software eliminates the need to expose data to the public internet for transmission.

3. Infrastructure Renewal

The top two challenges facing water professionals, according to the AWWA 2019 State of the Industry survey, were renewal and replacement of aging water and wastewater infrastructure and financing for capital improvements. Those challenges continue into 2020. Because most water utilities and municipalities have limited funds, they must carefully consider their investment needs and capital expenditures. Deploying a solution that leverages smart data and offers flexibility can help.

4. LPWAN (Low-Power Wide-Area Network) Technologies

An evolving trend and valuable addition to the water utility industry, advancing cellular and IoT-based technologies continue to help water utilities reduce infrastructure spend, increase interoperability of data and stay up to date with regular technology updates. Looking ahead in 2020, the industry is moving to support faster, more reliable 5G networks.

When the Third Generation Partnership Project (3GPP), which maintains and develops protocols for the mobile industry, introduced the LTE-M and NB IoT networks, it shared that they will be supported by both the 4G and 5G networks. This ensures longevity for cellular endpoint devices going forward.

For water utilities looking to implement a solution, the 5G network will empower improved cost-effectiveness. Greater and quicker access to data will allow water utilities to make more informed decisions using metering data from their systems.

Together, these trends and technological advancements are addressing some of the key pain points utilities are facing today — whether it be improving customer service, increasing efficiency of meter reading or utilizing analytics to better manage a utility.

John Fillinger is the director of utility marketing at Badger Meter. He has nearly 20 years of experience in the water industry. Throughout his career with Badger Meter, Fillinger has assumed roles in technical support, training and marketing. He is a frequent contributor to WF&M.

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