The smart way to ease the smart meter rollout

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By the end of 2020, the UK government envisages that 50 million homes should have a smart meter installed. With a little over two and a half years to go, suppliers are only 20 percent towards meeting this target. It is estimated that the installation rate needs to double to stand any chance of hitting this target.

In order for suppliers to make their installation programmes more efficient, they need to be equipping technicians with laptops, tablets or smartphones for accessing customer and account information, documenting steps taken and confirming completion. However, these activities can be negatively impacted by coverage problems in many geographic areas. Ironically, whilst the smart meters themselves have their own dedicated WAN, the technicians who install the meters will be largely dependant on the same wireless networks that the public uses. This is where Mobile Performance Management (MPM) solutions can provide answers.

What is mobile performance management?

MPM software has been adopted by six of the ten largest utilities in the U.S. and three of the ten largest utilities globally. Using a mix of technologies that make wireless connections more reliable and resilient, the software handles the complexities of dealing with multiple connections and variable coverage conditions so that workers can focus on their jobs.

How can this software support the efforts of energy suppliers as they try to meet the looming 2020 deadline?

Helping technicians increase their daily install targets

Poor connections mean technicians spend time troubleshooting their devices and wireless connections, instead of doing the job of installing meters. MPM software has been proven to reduce help-desk calls related to connection problems, boost productivity overall and increase the number of jobs that can be completed in a day.

It does this in a number of ways:

Working on through with a poor connection signal.
MPM software delivers a resilient connection, allowing technicians to continue working and using their devices even if no wireless signal is present. It accomplishes this by pausing the session, holding any pending data in queue, and resuming the session when the network is again available. Practically speaking, this means technicians can receive work order updates, dispatch instructions, and the other information they need to do their jobs while they are travelling between worksites. They can continue working even if the customer site is in a black spot or at the fringe of a coverage area. The ability to compress the data so it requires less bandwidth can not only save money on connection costs, but also improves the ability to work through connections with limited throughput.

Continually signed-on, regardless of network conditions.

When technicians work in areas with marginal or inconsistent coverage, they have to re-authenticate and re-establish their connections to the network, to their applications or to

both, multiple times during the day. If the coverage loss happens while entering data, they often have to re-enter it. Using MPM solutions, workers only have to log in once at the start of a shift to establish a connection that will last all day. It also keeps applications stable through disconnects. The benefits include a decrease in help-desk calls, more jobs completed and an increase in overall productivity. Again, install numbers go up.

Smooth connections across multiple networks.

Given the state of connectivity in the U.K., technicians may have to access multiple networks of various types. Mobile Performance Management transparently handles the various transitions, enabling seamless and secure roaming among cellular and Wi-Fi connections, giving access to all authorised networks through one single login.

Making new technicians more productive

A big roadblock to ramping up the installation rate is the lack of qualified technicians, as some suppliers have freely acknowledged. Whilst the technical knowledge to connect a meter safely while performing supplier-specific procedures is daunting enough, MPM solutions eliminate any need for suppliers to train technicians separately on how to manage their wireless connections - it makes wireless connections work seamlessly.

Adherence to the Smart Meter Installation Code of Practice (SMICoP) is another Ofgem concern; the code requires technicians to demonstrate use of the In-Home Display (IHD) to the customer, and give energy-efficiency advice. Connection continuity through MPM enables reliable access to applications that assist the technician and document consumer interactions.

Avoiding aborted installs due to black spots

MPM can make marginal connections usable, but large regions with no coverage continue to be a problem, especially in rural areas. With the deadline fast-approaching, suppliers can no longer afford to send technicians to job sites without reasonable assurances that they will be able to connect to the information to do their jobs. Using MPM, each technician’s device can gather statistics and information about the quality of coverage in the field, creating coverage maps based on actual network conditions, clearly revealing weak or no-signal areas. Dispatchers can avoid these areas until the carriers correct the problems.

The state of the smart meter rollout

For one of the U.K.’s largest energy suppliers, the early success of their smart meter installation is credited to its decision to invest early during the foundation stage of the programme. Indeed, one of the most important details was the decision to equip its technicians with MPM software.

Energy companies should spare no effort in making their technicians as efficient and productive as possible in order to meet the mandate. MPM is proven technology and an essential complement to mobile devices wherever organisations need to maximise productivity of their mobile workforces.

Lee Johnson, Director of global marketing, Netmotion Software
Image Credit: Jamesteohart / Shutterstock