Verizon taps Cat M1 network for smart grid utility services

It's been more than a year since Verizon launched its nationwide LTE Category M1 network, and it’s now using it to provide essential services to utilities looking for better smart grid solutions.

Verizon Grid Wide Utility Solutions is a cloud-based software platform that enables smart metering, meter data management and more—and it’s being used by Hawaiian Electric Company to meet its 100% renewable energy goal by 2045. (Verizon also offers intelligent water monitoring and smart gas metering.)

Hawaiian Electric partnered with Verizon to use data collected from IoT smart sensors on roof-mounted solar power units to determine the company’s energy grid levels and help customers understand their own levels of electricity consumption. In order to do that, the energy company needed very-near-real-time insight into what’s happening. Using the electric meter as a sensor, the system is able to take measurements related to energy usage and use that information to better understand what’s going on, according to Jay Olearain, director of product and new business innovation at Verizon.

Olearain said he believes most utilities going forward will use Cat M1 as opposed to LTE Category 4, which is fine for smartphones and tablets but generally unnecessary for IoT. And while Cat M1 supports mobility, it is not necessary in this circumstance, where the solution is fixed. There’s a lot of talk about the role of IoT and how it plays out in 5G, but LTE is providing enough for the here and now.

“Right now, we’re really leveraging the development and the investment we’ve made in the LTE Category M1 network,” Olearain told FierceWirelessTech.

That’s due to a couple of reasons. For one, the Cat M1 technology allows Verizon to be a lot more price competitive with competing legacy technologies, like RF mesh or others that use unlicensed spectrum. For another, Cat M1 enables Verizon to offer significantly more functionality than the older technologies, so customers get more bang for the (lower) buck.

RELATED: Verizon launching nationwide LTE Cat M1 network for IoT

Verizon described Cat M1 as a game changer back when it announced its network launch last year. Up until then, some IoT companies like Sigfox, Ingenu and others were taking advantage of a window of opportunity to offer lower-priced, low-power solutions while the cellular carriers went through the standards system, which ended up going relatively fast for a process that usually drags out much longer.

Verizon also plans to launch a Narrowband IoT (NB-IoT) network this year. While Cat M1 targets a range of applications for business customers such as wearables, fleet and asset management, NB-IoT Guard band focuses on applications needing data rates below 100 Kbps.

Rival AT&T explained earlier this month that it decided to add NB-IoT to its network toolbox because some customers were asking for a lower-cost IoT solution and because the NB-IoT technology is a better fit for some use cases. The carrier expects to add NB-IoT to all its cell sites by the end of 2019.