IoT in Utilities: Smart Meter Connectivity for Water and Energy

Eseye author


IoT Hardware and Connectivity Specialists


Adoption of IoT-enabled smart meters in utilities like water, electricity, and gas is exploding as innovations in connectivity open up new possibilities for water and energy providers to make substantial enhancements in operational efficiency.

Historically, the registration and collection of utility meter data has been a resource-intensive manual task, requiring a human to visit each individual metering point on a periodical basis and take a reading, which is then uploaded to a central database, leaving room for human error.

But in the last couple of decades, developments in Automated Meter Reading (AMR) solutions have enabled wireless walk- or drive-by meter reading operations using a hand-held receiver, although these still require human intervention. More recently, Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) introduced fully remote meter readings but largely relies on a fixed line network infrastructure – usually powerline (PLC) – for connectivity, which is not ideal as we see below.

Now, IoT and M2M takes AMI capabilities a step further, offering fully remote two-way communication between the smart meter and the utility provider’s network over a wireless link.

Automated Meter Reading (AMR) solutions use short-range radio transmitters to send a reading to a hand-held receiver operated by a utility employee walking, or in some cases driving, by.

Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) uses powerline (PLC) infrastructure to remotely communicate with and send meter readings to the utility’s centralized database.

Power Line Communication (PLC) uses the existing powerline network as a communication medium, and while it seems like an obvious choice, especially for electricity meters, it frequently runs into interference problems.

Sub-metering makes use of fixed or wireless transmitters in the meter and leverages lightweight protocols such as Meter Bus (M-Bus) to send information to a local gateway, which aggregates and backhauls data to the utility cloud. This requires more infrastructure to be deployed and can run into standardization issues depending on the technology, but is a common method for enabling billing of multi-tenancy buildings such as apartment blocks or offices.

In terms of wireless connectivity, smart meters use a wide variety of proprietary and standards-based technologies, which vary in deployment from region to region. According to Berg Insight, in North America, proprietary RF networking platforms accounted for as much as 92% of the installed base of AMI endpoints in 2022.

Meanwhile, various proprietary and open-standard RF technologies based on the EN 13757 standard accounted for roughly 47% of all AMI endpoints installed in Europe. According to Berg, Wize, a wireless technology using the 169 MHz radio frequency and derived from the wireless M-Bus protocol, is the single most deployed technology for water AMI in Europe.

Optimized for cost-sensitive and mission-critical IoT applications, LoRaWAN (Long Range Wide Area Network) and 3GPP-based LPWA (Low Power Wide Area) technologies are now also emerging as real contenders for smart metering applications.

With LTE-M seen as a popular choice in the US and LoRaWAN and NB-IoT in Europe, cellular communications technologies are forecasted to see massive growth through 2028, primarily driven by 3GPP-based LPWA deployments, according to Berg.

Smart metering solutions open up new possibilities for water utilities to make enhancements in operational efficiency, reduce non-revenue water (NRW), and greatly improve water conservation.

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) estimates that nearly half of the world’s population will be impacted by water stress, with demand exceeding supply by 40%, in 2030.

Even today, water loss, or ‘non-revenue water’ is considerable, with the UK reporting 23% loss in 2020, compared to 14% in the US, and 39% in Brazil. According to the US Environment Protection Agency (EPA), nearly 10% of homes have leaks that waste 400 liters or more per day in the US.

Detecting water leaks is one of the key water (and revenue) saving measures for a water utility. Smart water meters equipped with sensors for leakage detection based on the water flow rate can help the local utility track the water consumption per user and detect even small changes in the level of consumption.

Leaky pipes can also allow contaminants to enter, such as bacteria and viruses, making the water unsafe for consumption.

Beyond leak detection and water volume and pressure, smart water grids can monitor the physical infrastructure through sensors capturing information such as temperature, chemicals, water quality, and supply levels.

This data can be fed into management software used to analyze the water flow pattern, enabling predictive modeling and decision making for water supply, pricing, expenditure, and labor. Smart grids are also useful in emergency situations such as floods and droughts, dynamically adapting water distribution.

But smart water meter benefits are not limited to reducing losses, they can also make consumers more aware of their habits, encouraging them to reduce their consumption of water and potentially their costs.

A study by Telefonica Tech in 2022 estimated that deployment of smart meters in Spain reduced the impact of water leaks by 40% through quick detection, and cut operation and maintenance costs by 20%.

Furthermore, the company reported that customer satisfaction rates are 60% higher with connected meters when compared to traditional meters because of more accurate reporting and billing for usage.

In terms of deployment, Berg Insight states North America constitutes the leading market for smart water metering solutions globally today, followed by Europe, where France and Spain have historically been the primary markets, but strong growth is also coming from Italy, the UK, Scandinavia, the DACH region and Benelux.

Historically, energy utilities have had to send employees to read meters, which is expensive and may require access to premises, or rely on customers to self-report readings, which is unreliable, with both scenarios contributing to increased overheads and decreased customer satisfaction.

In addition to reduced costs and streamlined operations, smart metering solutions can also help energy utilities minimize electricity theft, which peaked in the UK in the three years to 2023.

As a result, smart metering is widely regarded as the cornerstone for future energy grids and is currently being deployed all over the developed and developing world. Asia-Pacific constitutes the largest market by far while North America ranks as the third largest market after Europe, with the focus increasingly shifting to Central, East and Southeast Europe.

The smart electricity meter penetration rate in North America reached 77% at the end of 2022, when more than 56% of electricity customers in EU27+3 had a smart meter.

Both North America and Europe are two highly dynamic market regions experiencing a wave of smart metering projects being launched, with several major utilities preparing for a second wave of deployments to take off, driven by developments in IoT.

Adoption of smart metering is also growing fast in the European gas market. At the end of 2022 around 42% of natural gas customers in EU27+3 used a smart gas meter, according to Berg Insight.

In terms of connectivity, various forms of PLC remain the dominant technology in terms of installed base for energy smart meters, although wireless communications options are forecasted to account for over 60% of shipment volumes by 2026.

North America was the first region in the world to move beyond traditional energy metering through the widespread introduction of AMR in the last 40 years, and today the rapid development of wireless technologies for IoT is having a major impact on the smart metering market.

For utilities embarking on a ‘phase two’ smart metering deployment, wireless technologies have a number of advantages compared to PLC which dominated the first wave of smart energy deployments.

3GPP-based LPWA technologies such as NB-IoT and LTE-M are rapidly gaining traction in the energy space, with major deployments under way in North America and in Benelux, the Nordics and the Baltics.

According to Berg Insight, LPWA will more than quadruple its smart meter connectivity market share by 2028, enhancing meter reading efficiency and long-term accuracy, improving customer service processes, and supporting security and deterring tampering.

In developing regions like Africa, smart metering solutions are driving the deployment of mini-grids – decentralized, independent power networks that can function apart from and take the strain off a national grid, but also bridge the gap  across to standalone solar home systems which are becoming increasingly popular.

Smart metering solutions enable mini-grid providers to remotely monitor and manage energy production and facilitate digital payment collection, enabling PAYG services in low income and unbanked segments.

With water and energy being limited resources, various local and regional environmental regulations are pushing utilities towards the adoption of smart tech. 

The European Energy Directive (EED) aims to increase European energy efficiency by 32.5% by 2032, with a target of getting all households to have smart energy and water meters installed by 2027. The legislation is pushing an agenda that frequent insights on consumption data will encourage energy conservation among consumers.

In North America, similar regulations are entering on a state level, but in California for instance, state law requires that smart water meters be deployed in all cities by 2025.

Itron, an American technology company which provides both smart meters and the networks they run on, used local MNOs for connectivity, but expansion plans needed a more flexible approach – ideally, an MVNO that could work in more than one market.

Eseye’s (multi-IMSI) AnyNet SIMs inserted at the point of manufacturing, including embedded SIMs in sealed devices for safety reasons, use LTE-M to accommodate low power consumption and 15-year lifespan of Itron’s smart meters in conjunction with Eseye AnyNet SMARTconnect™ to manage its meter estate.

Ovarro provides logging technology for water network management and leakage control and required a connectivity solution that would resolve inconsistent and poor coverage.

By implementing Eseye’s AnyNet embedded multi-IMSI chip SIM into the XiLog+ and Phocus3m loggers across their global estate, Ovarro has been able to deploy reliable connections across the globe and has resolved the waterproofing concerns of previous iterations of its loggers.

eWATER was aware that the traditional model of water and sanitation deployment in sub-Saharan Africa relied too heavily on unreliable water committees to collect user fees and carry out maintenance.

Leveraging Eseye’s IoT device design consultancy service to develop a HERA communication node, eWATERPay was able to manage the provision of clean, low-cost water, which is accessible 24/7, with payments securely made using an eWATER tag and dispensers communicating seamlessly with eWATER’s payments software, providing real-time usage data.

SolarNow empowers the most remote businesses and communities throughout East Africa by delivering life-changing equipment and appliances in homes, farms, schools, health centers and businesses.

The company recognized that IoT devices with cellular connectivity could help them to identify and address any recurring challenges and collect and analyze data to improve customer service.

By deploying the AnyNet SIM to facilitate seamless and global integration into the AWS IoT Core platform, SolarNow was able to save customers money with innovations like a SolarNow water pump.

Even among utilities which have already deployed advanced metering infrastructure, interest is now growing around the potential for wireless and cellular-enabled IoT and M2M devices and the potential applications of smart grids and two-way communication with meters.

Key benefits include:

  • Optimizing meter reading efficiency
  • Long-term meter and billing accuracy
  • Improving customer service
  • Streamlining billing processes
  • Decreasing leakage and non-revenue water
  • Enhancing security and preventing energy theft

With smart grid and smart city applications merging, increasing investments are coming in areas such as distribution automation, distributed energy resources (DERs), electric vehicle (EV) charging, and smart street lighting.

Eseye’s AnyNet SMARTconnect™ gives IoT devices the intelligence to swap to another network if connectivity drops, and future-proofs the device by allowing new networks and operators to be easily introduced. It also provides the building blocks to enable connectivity applets with access to multiple RATs – for example cellular, Zigbee, Thread, Bluetooth, LoRaWAN and satellite.

While Hera – our range of specialist IoT edge hardware – meets your evolving IoT needs for ruggedness and reliability.

Hardware and software is underpinned by Eseye’s Infinity IoT Platform, connectivity management software that gives operators oversight and control of the entire smart meter estate from a single pane of glass. This makes it possible to optimize connectivity for each device, as well provide full-lifecycle management of the entire estate.

Connectivity for IoT Smart Meters in Utilities

Learn more about key considerations for smart device manufacturers designing future-proof solutions in our whitepaper.

Get whitepaper
Eseye author


IoT Hardware and Connectivity Specialists


Eseye brings decades of end-to-end expertise to integrate and optimise IoT connectivity delivering near 100% uptime. From idea to implementation and beyond, we deliver lasting value from IoT. Nobody does IoT better.