The use of low-power wide-area (LPWA) Internet of Things (IoT) devices and narrowband IoT (NB-IoT) provides significantly greater water management capabilities and highly detailed water information across the value chain, says multinational mobile network operator Vodacom IoT director Deon Liebenberg.
“Water management remains hampered by limited information and rudimentary technologies, which leave municipal managers to make decisions based on limited data.”
LPWA water meters replace mechanical flow meters (typically serving individual properties) and become a water and business management tool when combined with Vodacom’s national cellular network. The tool can use NB-IoT technology to connect devices with low bandwidth requirements, using low power and providing increased penetration and coverage for IoT networks.
These IoT devices are affordable, small and powerful sensors that can be installed across the water value chain to accurately monitor the flow and use of water, the location of leaks and even the quality of the water being pumped, notes Liebenberg.
“These smart water meters vary from devices that measure the flow of water to more complex devices that can test the quality of the water. When connected to the Vodacom network through LPWA technology, they can be fitted in hard-to-reach places or even underground and still communicate in real time with a central database.”
The data from the devices can accurately determine the flow of water at dams and water purification stations, as well as water levels in reservoirs and, ultimately, the water delivered to every home.
“The information can then be collated and analysed by our Big Data team to evaluate metrics such as sudden changes in use or flow to detect leaks or burst pipes,” he says.
Subsequently, water prices can be adjusted for individual users to deter heavy users or detailed water quality monitoring can enable a municipality to pump grey or lower-quality water to certain areas, such as factories, Liebenberg highlights.
“In global water IoT trials, water consumption declined by 10%, owing to the quick fixing of leaks, while leaks declined by 20% in general and the average consumer’s bill was also reduced.”
Vodacom follows global best practices and offers its IoT and LPWA technology and infrastructure as a platform for municipalities and other organisations that provide a service for consumers.
“This platform has opened a floodgate of ideas, including ways in which people can personally manage their water use and municipal bills through an application (app) that tracks real-time water use. The same app can also enable citizens to spot and report water leaks.”
The IoT data can also be compared with weather patterns and global climate change statistics to help municipalities and the national government plan for future water security.
“The use of low-cost IoT and LPWA technology can transform the way we track and manage our most precious resource by implementing smart water management,” he concludes.