Three to play key part in State’s largest IoT project
Firm will provide communications network for smart meters set to be in millions of homes
ESB aims to install up to 2.5 million smart meters in homes around the country
Ireland’s largest ever internet of things (IoT) project has just been announced by the ESB. Over the next six years the electricity utility aims to install up to 2.5 million smart meters in homes around the country, and Three Ireland has been awarded the contract to provide the communications network which will connect the meters back to ESB.
The benefits of the new smart meters to consumers will be considerable, according to Aoife MacEvilly of the Commission for Regulation of Utilities who described the project as “another step on the journey to enable electricity suppliers to offer smart energy services to customers and will support the migration to a low carbon electricity system. Smart meters will also help customers make more informed choices about their consumption, give customers accurate and regular information on their electricity usage and ensure no more estimated bills”.
“We will be providing the cellular communications service for the National Smart Meter Replacement Programme which includes managed SIM cards and communications infrastructure, service and support,” says Three Ireland business director Eoin MacManus. “Three Ireland was selected following a very competitive tendering process.
“We are very pleased to be bringing our extensive expertise to such an important national transformative project which will deliver considerable benefits to Irish consumers, the economy and the environment,” he adds. “The goal for the project is to have 250,000 meters installed nationwide by the end of 2020, and about 500,000 meters in each of the four subsequent years.”
Three will build a virtual network to allow all of the meters to communicate back with the ESB, according to Karl McDermott, head of Three connected solutions and IoT. “We are giving ESB the ability to communicate with the SIM cards in the meters, to switch them on and off, get data from them and so on.”
Interestingly, despite the fact that potentially millions of meters will be sending and receiving data, network capacity isn’t really an issue. “It’s not that significant,” says McDermott. “The amount of data sent by each meter is relatively small and our network will have no difficulty in catering for it. It’s the way that it will be done that is more important. We will work with ESB on staggering the data flow to make it happen at night or early in the morning. We will do the capacity planning with them.”
One of the key advantages Three brings to the table is its Cisco Jasper platform which allows customers to manage IoT devices in the cloud on a centralised control panel. The scalable system allows users to scale up from hundreds to potentially millions of devices with no added layers of complexity.
“Three Ireland is the global centre of excellence for machine to machine technology within the CK Hutchinson group,” adds MacManus. “That means we have the resources to provide IoT solutions to customers with complex needs. This project confirms Three’s position as a leader in the space. The project kicked off with a workshop last week and the first meters will be installed in the third quarter of the year. The aim is to have 250,000 installed by the end of next year. There is also an option for ESB to extend the contract to 750,000.”
Looking ahead, he believes IoT will have a growing impact on the economy and society in the coming years. “Two areas where consumers see it are the connected home and connected cars. Connected cars are already entering the market with built-in SIMs. Kits to upgrade legacy cars are coming as well and we are active in that area.
“Connected homes have been a long time coming,” he notes. “But we see the area growing faster in the next year or so. What is needed is a platform to enable all devices to talk to each other. We are working on that at present.”
McDermott points out that IoT is very fragmented at present in areas like business to consumer, business to business, and business to business to consumer. “In agrifood we are helping companies figure out the distribution of their goods and we are applying it to digital signage in the retail sector.”
Connected health is another growth area, according to MacManus. “We will start to see more use of wearables and other smart sensor and monitoring technologies to connect to GPs and other health professionals to help people stay out of hospitals,” he says. “Being able to monitor your health in your own home will be a great advantage.”
This will drive rapid growth in the number of connected devices, McDermott adds. “It is estimated that there will be 25 billion connected devices worldwide by the early 2020s. It is really starting to explode now. Smart metering in Ireland is part of that. 5G is very much part of that as well. It is very much a data technology designed around many thousands of devices connected to single cells. The crown jewel for us in that sense is the spectrum we acquired last year which allows us to deliver the most ubiquitous 5G service across the country. That will be quite transformative for IoT in Ireland.”