Benton County Electric System (BCES), which provides smart metering systems in Benton County, Northwest Tennessee, has solved its connectivity issues using technology from Inmarsat and Network Innovations.
The electricity company, which provides electricity for the whole of Benton County, began an initiative five years ago to install automated smart metering infrastructure that would collect meter data every 15 minutes. In theory, close to real-time data from meters would allow BCES to provide energy for its customers in a more efficient manner – or so the company thought.
BCES wanted to remotely connect and disconnect services, monitor power outages across the county, and offer new services such as prepay. This would mean a reduction in manual meter checks, saving money and time; BCES estimates up to one to two hours could be spent on each round trip just to reach the customer, not including the time to connect or disconnect, or take a reading of the entire area. Sometimes, multiple trips to the same area would also be needed depending on the customer issue.
However, due the remote nature of large parts of the county, which, other than the city of Camden, is largely made up of agricultural communities, the company faced patchy and unreliable cellular coverage.
“We initially adopted a hybrid connectivity model for our meters, connecting our collectors on our fiber-optic network in certain areas, and private cellular networks in others,” said Scott Owens, director of communications and technical services, BCES.
“However, there were gaps in the network where neither of the two services were available or feasible, meaning that some isolated meters still had to be read manually, draining time and resources. We needed a connectivity solution that would enable us to fully utilize the integrated automated metering infrastructure.”
A satellite-based solution
Consequently, BCES set about finding an alternative means of achieving connectivity.
“The primary selection criteria for choosing a provider were ease of implementation, reliability and cost,” a spokesperson from Network Innovations told Internet of Business. Eventually, BCES settled on a technology provided by Network Innovations, a partner of satellite communications company Inmarsat, and provider of BGAN M2M satellite comms services.
Network Innovations’ BGAN M2M technology is said to provide BCES with a reliable, IP-based real-time connectivity service that integrates into its existing network.
“Inmarsat’s BGAN service was chosen because the equipment and service installation does not require any onsite technical expertise, Inmarsat’s service provides 99.9 percent network availability,” the spokesperson added. “The equipment, service plans and pricing structures are cost effective and designed for lower bandwidth applications as required by BCES.”
The BGAN service allowed BCES to connect its monitoring operations to control applications in the remote areas where the meters were located. This enables the team to have full visibility over the smart meters across an entire operational area.
Connected benefits for Benton County
With a reliable network in place, BCES says it has been able to finish the rollout of its automated metering infrastructure. It has also enabled to company to offer prepay services, which reads, disconnects, and connects meters daily, giving BCES’s customers more choices and information than was offered previously.
Alongside network reliability, Scott Owens confirmed that the BGAN M2M service was easy to set up. “The installation was so straightforward that if you can point a compass, you can install the small-size BGAN terminal,” he said.
“Connectivity is the key to everything we do. We don’t need a super-fast service; we need a stable and reliable service. The customer service we received when implementing the BGAN terminals from Network Innovations was outstanding and appreciated in a small company such as ours. The service provided the foundation we need for our automated metering project, which has saved us time and money, and enabled us to improve the experience of our customers.”