Northumbrian Water picks BT for LoRaWAN-based smart meter rollout

BT's LoRaWAN will serve the region's smart water projects and provide real-time data into the risk of overflow as well as providing general visibility to Northumbrian Water's operational infrastructure

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BT has announced a partnership with Northumbrian Water to provide a smart water project across Sunderland and north-east England, which it hopes will be bolstered by the upcoming 5G rollout in the UK.

As a long-standing customer of BT, Northumbrian Water has adopted a variety of digital means to enhance its water network over the years. The new partnership will see BT extending its own smart water project to Northumbrian Water, enabling the utility company to predict and address possible issues such as water leakage as quickly as possible.

Image: Chris Sims, MD of Strategy, Marketing & Digital at BT
Image: Chris Sims, MD of Strategy, Marketing & Digital at BT

"We've been doing quite a lot of work with Northumbrian Water, looking at how BT can provide new technologies that will help them go above and beyond to manage their operations, and that's where this opportunity around the smart water meter came about," Chris Sims, MD of strategy, marketing and digital at BT told Computerworld UK.

The Smart Water project will be deployed across Sunderland, with around 150 sensors installed to capture water flow, pressure and quality enabling Northumbrian Water to gain visibility into operational insights.

BT's IoT platform is designed to capture all the data received from the sensors, while providing Northumbrian Water with the data needed to understand how the network is functioning.

"Northumbrian Water are pretty progressive so essentially there was a meeting of two minds as they've got a business problem they had, in terms of being able to remotely manage, and we're in a position now where we've got the capability to roll out our LoRaWAN networks very quickly and robustly and actually manage the data that comes off those networks as well, so it was kind of like two obvious sides of the jigsaw coming together," Sims said.

LoRaWAN is a low power, wide area networking protocol which is designed to wirelessly connect battery operated devices and applications to the internet in local, regional or global networks. The protocal is designed to enable low-powered devices to communicate with internet-connected applications using lower radio frequencies.

All data collected will be connected to BT's LoRaWAN network, which as a radio network-based technology is supported as part of BT's IoT platform.

"LoRaWAN is really suited to the transmission of small amounts of data, just perfect for metering and what LoRaWAN does is it enables a very low power communication between the base station and device," Sims explained.

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5G and IoT network

The LoRaWAN network is often used in smaller, local deployments, but BT says that customers can get the same level of quality as customers using its cellular network across larger regions.

"With cellular low power, 5G or NB-IoT, there's an opportunity for us to take the same level of quality and coverage that we have for any future 5G networks and apply that to those use cases, and clearly that's a really big opportunity for BT," Sims added. "I think we're in a really great position to help power the UK's IoT ecosystem with those kinds of technologies."

BT currently boasts 91 percent 4G coverage in the UK by geography, and hopes to lead the way with upcoming 5G deployments, touted to deliver benefits such as lower latency and higher speeds in collaboration with its IoT platform.

"In the future, of course, 5G will give us a ubiquitous low power network over the whole of the UK, and that will open a whole load of extra use cases where you want to take this sort of telematics and tracking against free low power," Sims said. "We see that complementing what we're doing with LoRa quite nicely."

The partnership with Northumbrian Water is just one of BT's many IoT deployments in the utilities sector. In 2018, it announced a partnership with Stobart Group to track flood pumps as part of disaster recovery, deployed using BT's intelligent assets and IoT platform.

"We're very dialled into the utilities industry and help them do a lot of chopping of their assets, both in terms of helping to support their field force but also in terms of actually preventing things such as tools and machinery from going missing," Sims said.

"All these use cases that we talk about from metering to smart cities and connected cars, and all these kind of things, through BT and EE network we will be able to deliver those nationwide.

"I mean it's obvious that the network rollout is going to take a little bit of time with 5G, but we're in a really brilliant starting point."

BT has also been delivering IoT deployments similar to the smart water project across smart cities, transport and logistics sectors.

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