What's the difference between NR+ and cellular 5G? - Wirepas

NR+ and cellular 5G, what's the difference?

Maruthi Mallepalli

There's no question that electricity meters should be turned into smart ones. The benefits of doing so are real-time data, improved billing accuracy, and better grid management. But the big question is, how to connect millions of smart meters? You need two things: reliability and scalability.

We all know cellular. It works exactly as it has been designed to work: with your phone, the world is at your fingertips. What a monument of technology. In what it was built for, that is. However, consider smart meters: millions of devices require an ultra-reliable connection in various environments. Here lies a fundamental difference between humans with smartphones and smart meters. Humans with smartphones can move around to improve network coverage, but smart meters remain stationary in fixed locations. So, what happens when there's no coverage? Unlike humans, who can adjust, smart meters face limitations. In densely populated areas or underground, cellular networks struggle to provide adequate coverage for phones, let alone smart meters. While cellular technology may function in certain scenarios for smart meters, it wasn't designed with them in mind and thus has its limitations.

Utility companies are embracing cellular communication for their Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI). While some have achieved success to varying degrees, others have encountered failure and continue to face challenges. Why is that?

Poor coverage and connectivity issues: Even in developed countries like the UK, we see that meters are not connected. So the investment made goes to waste when the smart part is not there.

Mobile network shutdowns: Currently, we're seeing 3G networks deprecated. Electricity meters need to be able to rely on the connectivity you have chosen to work for the whole time they are in use. At the moment, it's not happening. And with the speed of innovation, you'll never know when your mobile network will see a revamp.

Congested meter rooms: Think of a building with hundreds of apartments. They all have their meters. Now think of all those meters trying to get the data out at the same time. You know what happens to your mobile phone when trying to use it in a mass event. That's what happens with your meters too.

Operational costs: Now think of the costs. You know how mobile networks work: You buy one plan for your mobile phone. You can't use the same subscription for multiple phones. Now, think how the subscriptions add up if you connect millions of meters monthly. It's a lot; even with bulk pricing, it's a subscription per meter.

Utility companies in developing countries are grappling with significant commercial losses caused by widespread meter tampering, inadequate implementation of smart prepaid meters, and poor communication service level agreements (SLAs) in smart meter deployments. These challenges make investments in the distribution sector highly unattractive. To optimize investments in advanced metering infrastructure (AMI), it is crucial to select the appropriate communication technology for smart meters.

Luckily, there is a better option available — built ground up for connecting millions and millions of devices at once, ultra-reliably yet cost-efficiently.

Let us introduce NR+, the world's first non-cellular 5G technology standard. It was developed by the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) and approved by ITU-R. It uses its dedicated radio frequency, around 1.9 GHz.

What's the buzz here, and what's different? NR+ has been developed with smart meters and other smart objects in mind. It's based on a mesh topology, which means there's no central management, operator or subscription like we have with cellular. The meters create the network on their own. Any meter can communicate the data forward. This means that any new device added to the network extends it.

Coverage without connectivity issues: With a mesh network, coverage is not an issue. Wherever you have meters, they work. In case one way of communicating the message fails, the meters will—again, on their own—reroute it. Using mesh networks, some utilities have reached over 99.999% SLAs, so the reliability is there at the level of PLC.

There's no need to rely on someone else: With non-cellular mesh connectivity, the meters are the network. It will be deprecated only if you decide to.

Dense settings are the baseline: Remember those buildings with hundreds of electricity meters in them? With mesh topology, not every meter has to shout its message out. The meters, on their own, decide which meters will pass the data forward. It's not like they all need to spit out the message.

Dedicated spectrum: Many emerging markets suffer from poor sub-GHz spectrum regulation. Radio regulations limit the available spectrum, as well as maximum transmit power and duty-cycle limitations. NR+ comes with its own dedicated, free spectrum.

Cost of ownership: With NR+, the non-cellular part means there are no subscriptions. No recurring fees to use the connectivity. Massive savings ahead, but only with the right connectivity. And because there are no masts, no base stations, you don't have to pay for the maintenance of such infra.

Now let's see it side by side:


There's one final point:

With NR+ you own the network, you own the data. When a cellular operator builds the infrastructure and operates the network, it means that you have to trust all your data to pass within the operator network. This can be avoided with NR+. The mesh network is autonomously managed, and you can own and control who has access to your data.

Smart electricity meters are a long-term investment, requiring a future-proof, reliable and secure network. Inspired by the demand on the market, NR+ was designed to do just that.

Contact us directly

Maruthi Mallepalli Regional Head - Smart Grids (MEA)

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