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Local MNOs vs global MVNOs in smart metering – legacy telcos rule, says Kamstrup

An interesting angle came up last week in a webinar about smart metering, hosted by SIM specialist Kigen, where Danish meter maker Kamstrup responded to a question about how utility companies go about choosing connectivity technologies and connectivity providers by declaring cellular as the go-to solution for performance and value, and national mobile network operators (MNOs) as the go-to carriers for reasons of corporate stability and data privacy. 

The last point, about local data regulation, does not get mentioned much in discussions about airtime provision for smart meters – and is worth hearing in light of the buzz about international mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs) in the IoT space, which suggests they have solved the challenge of low-power wide-area (LPWA) cellular in a fragmented global market place in a way that parochial MNOs have not. See here for a sense of that. 

The webinar from Kigen is available on-demand here; but a brief summary of Kamstrup’s argument, that national MNOs are better than international MVNOs when it comes to the provision of cellular airtime, wherever in the world, says that a local operator, with a long corporate track record and sovereign radio and core network assets, which retain data inside its own borders, is the right match for utility providers and meter vendors.

Allan Nielsen, project lead for IoT connectivity at Kamstrup, remarked: “Many countries require that the data does not leave the country. That is one of the main reasons we have to work together with local telco providers – because, in some cases, data is not allowed to cross the border. Which makes it complex to make metering solutions… because many of these – let’s call them MVNOs – that are providing global solutions do not have a core [network] system.”

Nielsen Haig
Meters – Nielsen from Kamstrup (left) and Haig from Vodafone talk performance, value, privacy

The distinction, here, is between so-called ‘light’ (or ‘skinny’) MVNOs, piggybacking mostly on MNO infrastructure, except perhaps for home location (HLR) or subscriber registry – but able to set their own pricing and commercial strategy, and ‘full’ MVNOs with their own core network, plus switching network and SIM card issuance. But Nielsen noted that even full MVNOs probably do not host their core network in-market, where meter data is to be retained.

“Some [have] a core system, but [even] then the data leaves the country. Plus, you cannot be sure they’re [going to be around] in 20 years. So we have a lot of complexity in that [ connectivity decision, which] is the reason Kamstrup only works with local MNOs that can secure and run [local] systems.” Nielsen’s answer to the webinar question, posed by Kigen, followed from comments by Vodafone, sitting alongside, that cellular LPWA has come of age. 

“Technology, coverage and cost are three big things,” said Andy Haig, smart metering development manager in Vodafone’s IoT business, answering a prompt in the question. “But the other thing that should be on that list is security. Customers want to be assured that their data is safe… They’re also looking at certain non-technical features such as the provenance and experience of the connectivity vendor, and their financial stability as an organization.”

The last points, about local provenance and corporate longevity, matched with Nielsen’s subsequent comments, which hinted at some alarm at the instability in the wider telecoms market, particularly at the IoT-end of it. “It is important to work with a financially stable organization which will be there in 20 years. We have seen during the last 20 years a lot of movement in the telco business,” he said.

The webinar session put focus on developing SIM solutions, and Nielsen and Haig, along with Paul Bradley, vice president of solution sales at Kigen, and chair for the session, explained that new embedded and integrated SIMs (eSIMs and iSIMs) enable airtime provisioning of smart meters at the point of production, and even remote carrier swaps in the field. The Kamstrup arrangement with Vodafone is to select the UK-based MNO’s local networks as possible, and its roaming partners as required – rather than go via a global MNO connecting to local carriers via a centralised core network.

Look out for more coverage of the session.

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