Industry Article

Implementing LoRa-based Solutions for Smart Metering

January 07, 2020 by Rémi Demerlé, Semtech

This article explores the use of LoRa devices for long-range, low power smart metering of utilities, which allows for remote daily operations and the collection of data.

The rise in connected technology is having a direct impact on the smart metering market as cities and businesses look at new ways to assist with monitoring and controlling various operations. In fact, IHS Markit estimated that over 700 million smart meters were installed around the globe in 2018 and the firm projects that by 2025, one-third of all meters will be replaced by smart meters. 

In the past, meter monitoring operations for utilities were conducted manually by a specialized technician. This process was not only time consuming, but labor-intensive. Early connective solutions relied on remote reading through short-range wireless devices. A technician would typically drive by an area or neighborhood and remotely receive metering data. This method was limited to rural and suburban areas, making remote meter reading extremely difficult in dense urban environments, indoors, and underground.

Given the challenges, many managers, owners, and organizations have shifted towards a smart metering solution comprised of LoRa devices, as it has the ability to penetrate dense environments – both above and under the ground. This article covers how LoRa devices can be used to meter utilities and presents use cases showing the devices in action.


Typical LoRa Deployment

A typical LoRa deployment (see Figure 1) is comprised of four key elements and the LoRaWAN protocol, an open network protocol designed for solution interoperability in regional, national, or global networks.


Figure 1. LoRa network breakdown

Figure 1. LoRa network breakdown


This low power wide area network (LPWAN) solution begins with the end-node devices. An IoT solution transmits data using the LoRaWAN protocol to an LPWAN gateway application, a hub in which multiple smart utility sensors can connect to. The data is then sent to a network server and routed to an application server or cloud IoT service for processing. Afterward, the data is transmitted to the end user’s computer or smart device.


Security for Wireless Utility Monitoring

With the wireless transmission of metering data, privacy and security are top priorities for service providers. The LoRaWAN protocol’s baseline authentication and security framework draw from the AES 128 encryption scheme as implemented by IEEE 802.15.4/2006 Annex B [IEEE802154]. In a typical smart deployment, separate keys are used for user data encryption and authentication/network integrity. 

IoT devices use one of two methods to connect to a LoRaWAN network. The first method is activation by personalization (ABP) and requires that the network session key and the application session key are already stored in the IoT device together with a unique 32-bit device address and a unique 24-bit network ID. The unique 24-bit network ID identifies the specific LoRaWAN network that the device is intended for.  


Figure 2. Join request and join accept message formats.

Figure 2. Join request and join accept message formats.


The more common method of connecting LoRa-based devices is through over the air activation (OOTA). For this to work, each IoT device will send out a join request message to the network server which then forwards this message to a join server. The join request MAC command will also send a unique AppEUI identifying the application server this specific end-node wants to connect to.

Now let’s take a look at a few smart utility use cases.


Smart Water Management

Many businesses are looking at ways to incorporate more sustainable and environmentally consciences practices. This includes Washington-based Apana, a company who saw an opportunity to become the “security system for water consumption.” Apana’s water management solution provides businesses with the insights needed to reduce their total water footprint through the identification of process drift, mechanical malfunctions and failure points where water leakage occurs but is not commonly seen.


Figure 3. A snapshot of Apana’s achievements.

Figure 3. A snapshot of Apana’s achievements.


Costco Wholesale deployed Apana’s water management solution and was able to quickly identify how company buildings were using water and the cause of unusual spikes, which linked to wasteful operational practices or faulty equipment. As a result, Costco was able to reduce its water use by 20 percent, leading to a savings of approximately 22 percent in its water bills.


France’s Road to Three Million Connected Devices

Another company looking at smart water metering is Birdz, a subsidiary of Nova Veolia and a global leader in optimized resource management. In 2015, the city of Lyon, France deployed Birdz’s LoRa-based water management system, which consists of over 400,000 LoRa-based devices.

Since deploying the technology, the city has repaired over 1,200 water leaks and has seen an 8 percent increase in water network efficiency. The city saves an average of one million cubic meters annually as a result of transitioning from traditional metering to smart metering.


Figure 4. The infrastructure approach to smart utilities.

Figure 4. The infrastructure approach to smart utilities.


Birdz is currently on track to expand its operations in France, adding an additional three million intelligent utility sensors throughout the country. The key goal is to eventually achieve long-range remote reading in over 70 percent of water meters within the next decade. 


LoRa-based Sensors Offer Scalability

The scalability and inter-operability of LoRa-based sensors will play a pivotal role in the continued transition from traditional methods of operations management to intelligent smart solutions in the connected era. 

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