Mumbai: India’s largest telecom services provider Bharti Airtel Ltd is implementing “smart” meters across three states in India using machine-to-machine (M2M) technology as part of the central government’s Restructured Accelerated Power Development and Reforms Programme (R-APDRP) that aims to reduce power transmission losses.
Other telecom service providers such as Vodafone India Ltd and Idea Cellular Ltd also provide smart meter solutions, and research firm CyberMedia Research Ltd estimates that nearly 130 million smart meters will be required in India by 2021. Milan Rao, chief executive officer of enterprise and government business at Bharti Airtel, spoke in an interview about smart meters and how they improve energy efficiency. Edited excerpts:
How do smart meters work?
Bharti Airtel provides seamless and secure connectivity between meters and servers for Automatic Meter Reading (AMR). Electricity boards install SIM cards, within the electric meters, which ping data from an electric meter to a central server for services such as billing and collection. The solution enables the state to reduce outages and interruptions in power, identify losses in the distribution set-up and effectively monitor performance of transformers and grids. It helps enhance customer satisfaction too.
How does it score over traditional electricity meters?
Smart meters are like regular electricity meters but with an inbuilt SIM card/data connectivity (like the one in your phone) to communicate electricity consumption data via a telecommunications network to a pre-programmed utility location. Automatic meters have the following advantages—transparency in overall working, accurate monitoring, online connectivity and analysis of meter data, network monitoring and adherence to service-level agreements (SLAs). They also provide accessibility at remote locations besides giving the ability to detect power theft, meter tampering or power leakage and remotely connect/disconnect power supply.
What technology solution do you use, and how does M2M work in this context?
Our solution comprises an MPLS (Multiprotocol Label Switching to speed up network traffic flow), a VPN (Virtual Private Network to connect to remote sites), VSATs (Very Small Aperture Terminals that give high speed broadband connectivity through satellites) and customized GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) to connect data centres, regional offices, other offices, substations and consumer meters for R-APDRP projects driven by the Indian government in different states. M2M or SIM-card based machines require sensors, wireless networks and a computer connected to the Internet. Bharti Airtel being a pan-India telecom service provider with solutions comprising the above-mentioned technologies—MPLS, VSAT, GPRS/EDGE (Enhanced Data Rates for GSM Evolution), 3G (third generation), NLD (national long distance) and the Internet—can provide M2M solutions for different m-governance and corporate applications.
What challenges did you face in building the technology?
There have been challenges in terms of hardware deployment in remote locations for last-mile connectivity. However, we could overcome them with our pan-India network presence and support from electricity boards. In our experience of building the technology for state-level connectivity, we found that the capability of providing connectivity on a hybrid platform is a major differentiator. Hybrid connectivity essentially provides a wide range of connectivity options to a services provider, and these can be suitably picked up depending on different applications.
How successful has M2M been globally?
Globally smart grids are a huge success across developed cities. They have been deployed in China with China Mobile Ltd and in the US with AT&T Inc. and T-Mobile US Inc.
Can variations of this technology be used in other areas in the Indian market?
The same concept can be used across all utility segments like water meters, smart towers for mobile tower companies and fuel management in remote cities.
Is Bharti Airtel going to provide this service to more areas?
From smart meters to fleet trackers for logistics, we offer M2M solutions to various verticals such as utilities, automotive telematics, transportation and logistics, manufacturing, point of sale and retail. In addition to deploying this solution for state electricity boards, we provide M2M solutions in areas such as law and enforcement, health, municipalities and education. Bharti Airtel has developed a complete ecosystem comprising application, hardware vendors, system integrators and connectivity for addressing turnkey M2M opportunities.