An IoT device that literally keeps an eye on power consumption

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AMR services are limited when it comes to real-time data. One solution: an IoT add-on device that takes pics of the meter and sends them to the cloud.

China Tower has consolidated the shared telecoms infrastructure of China Mobile, China Telecom and China Unicom into a unified platform, including 1.7 million towers and 5.6 million base stations. China Tower’s core business is managing what is the largest infrastructure of its type in the world at a higher SLA and with lower operational cost.

Unfortunately, China Tower faces the massive challenge of managing its biggest expenditure item: electricity. It spends more than $10 billion every year on electric power, which accounts for about 60% of its total cost of service – and that expense is only expected to go up over the next four years.

However, China Tower has no good way to manage this problem, because it has no real-time, detailed information about the electricity consumption of every device, every base station, every tower and every district.

Ironically, China Tower is one of the biggest vertical customers of State Grid Corporation of China (SGCC), which has rolled out AMR (automatic meter reading) over the last ten years to build the world’s largest smart grid. SGCC is keen to provide any information that China Tower requires – yet it is unable to provide real-time electricity data. Why?

The challenge comes from the complicated power supply structures of China Tower, which are not unique, but common to all large distributed enterprises in China, and perhaps even around the world. Also, AMR is a very expensive solution in terms of both metering devices and deployment costs. It’s impossible for SGCC to provide full coverage to all geographies, especially suburban areas.

Even where AMR is supported, the data SGCC collects is only for usage charging. It’s typically collected only once per month – no detailed records can be retrieved in a real-time manner. This is of low value to China Tower if they want to optimize costs based on real-time consumption behavior.

To make matters worse, more than 50% of China Tower’s base stations are located in large buildings, residential communities, shopping centers, and spaces rented from third party hosting facilities. SGCC only provides the power to the gateway of the building – which means the electricity for China Tower’s base stations must be sourced from the host building owner. As such, China Tower can’t get any AMR data for these meters, which dramatically increases the risk of revenue leakage. Ballpark estimates reckon the cost is at least 30% higher than actual costs in most regions.

Because of all this, China Tower must have its field engineering team read meter data manually – no small task, given the number of towers and base stations, the large geographical distribution and difficulty in accessing base-station rooms located in third-party buildings or remote suburban sites. That means poor coverage, high labor costs and – of course – massive latency in acquiring the data.

It’s critical to have a low-cost, pervasive and easy-to-integrate solution to enable real-time monitoring of meters – broken down to the individual device level – so that telco operators can optimize power usage and provide better SLA for same money, which is vital to either survive or thrive as a business.

Wisdon Technology has come up with a solution to this issue: Wisdon Eye, a low-cost IoT device that can be mounted on the electronic meters as an add-on device, whether they are AMR-enabled smart meters or traditional analog meters. The device can be installed in five minutes with no disruption to service.

The device takes a picture of the meters at any designated frequency and send the data via 2G or NB-IoT to Wisdon’s cloud-based platform, which interprets the pictures using deep neural network / AI technology, which ensures that all of the pictures are processed quickly, no matter what kind of meter model, with an accuracy rate of 99.99%.

Wisdon says it is providing China Tower with a built-in carrier-grade business operating system, with out-of-the-box CRM, real-time billing and big data analytics, all of which can be integrated with any legacy system within seven days.

Smart metering is nothing new – it began ten years ago in the era of M2M. But it’s still very difficult and expensive to roll out because the total cost is still too high for mass deployment. By combining advanced IoT, cloud and AI technology, devices like the Wisdon Eye could help businesses to manage costs by applying a one-time-charge device cost plus pay-as-you-go subscription-based service fee. The company claims this is 30% to 50% of total cost ownership of any rival solutions.

Regardless, the concept of a simple, low-cost and easily implemented IoT solution will be music to the ears of power distributors and customers alike. There will, no doubt, be many western companies wondering why they didn’t think of this first and how long before they can get their hands on it.

This article was adapted from a longer article written by Wisdon Technology founder and CEO Ya Dong Jin, first published on LinkedIn.

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