Navigant Research Blog

Mobile Workforce Consumerization: Laptops, Tablets, and Phones, Oh My!

— July 12, 2018

Mobile workforce management is in a state of significant transformation. Along with enhancements to mobile workforce applications (software), there has been a notable shift in the types of devices (hardware) being used by workers in the field. Increasingly, utilities are tossing aside traditional laptops and two-way radios in lieu of consumer-grade devices like tablets and smartphones, fundamentally changing the landscape of workforce management.

Traditional Mobile Work Devices Have Limitations

Utilities in developed regions have historically deployed several types of mobile devices to the field force: ruggedized laptops that are often mounted on trucks, specialized handhelds used for specific tasks such as meter reading, and radios for voice communications and for activities such as deploying crews.

At the lower end of the technology spectrum, two-way radios from companies like Motorola and Harris have traditionally been the primary means of field force communications. While these devices are still in use today, they are largely limited to rural areas. In emerging markets, the use of two-way radios is a mixed bag; some may pursue these simple devices given the low price point, though strong cellular coverage in others (e.g., China) will enable select markets to leapfrog these rudimentary technologies and invest directly in tablets and specialized handhelds and smartphones.

Tablets and Smartphones Are Rising in Popularity for Mobile Workers

When moving up the chain to computing devices, utilities have traditionally employed expensive ruggedized laptops mounted in trucks. This is also changing as the complexity of device choices for utilities has increased dramatically in recent years. The proliferation of consumer-grade devices like tablets and smartphones entering the utility space is enabling new levels of flexibility for field force workers and the utility at large.

According to Navigant Research, these consumer-grade devices (tablets, smartphones) are expected to account for the majority of new device shipments, though there will still be a healthy market for new and upgraded laptops. Field workers still want the option to perform work on a laptop while in the truck while having the flexibility to jump onto a phone or tablet when at the door or performing field inspections.

The Sun Is Setting on Mobile Work Laptops

Looking forward, emerging capabilities like cognitive voice to text will further decrease the need for typing, incentivizing tablet and phone procurement over traditional laptops. Furthermore, technologies like augmented reality and wearables (think Google Glass) have the potential to continue driving this evolving space.

Navigant Research’s upcoming report, Utility Mobile Workforce Management Technologies, focuses on the drivers, barriers, and global trends of this technology.


AMI in Latin America: Moving beyond Mexico and Brazil

— June 7, 2018

There is finally a spark. After years of sitting on the sidelines, Latin America is finally making a play—on a meaningful scale—at the smart metering market. Across the larger markets of Brazil and Mexico, utilities have dabbled with smart metering for some years. Now that midsize markets like Peru, Colombia, and Chile are committing to high volume deployments in the near future, Latin America is gearing up for a period of sustained and record growth.

Motivations Are Clear

When taking a high level look at the region, the value of smart metering is abundantly clear. Latin America and pockets of Asia Pacific (most notably India) experience some of the highest rates of electricity theft in the world. Smart meters can detect and record theft of electrical service, sending meter tamper alerts back to the utility. Mitigating these (non-technical) losses is critical to improving the financial situations of these oft-strapped regional utilities and enabling higher levels of spending around more advanced smart grid technologies. In the evolution of the smart grid, smart meters sit right at the beginning; this is where much of Latin America resides today.

Traditional Giants

Brazil and Mexico have traditionally led the region when it comes to smart metering. In Brazil, utilities like AES Eletropaulo, Celpa, Eletrobras, Light, and others have at least experimented with smart metering, from pilot-scale projects to multimillion-meter deployments. In Mexico, state-run utility CFE is in the process of converting 30.2 million customers to smart meters by 2025. These regional giants will continue to account for the lion’s share of smart meter volumes across Latin America. Yet, new markets such as Peru, Columbia, and Chile will also account for significant smart meter revenue over the coming decade.

So What’s Changing?

According to BNamericas, Peru is set to commence an 8-year rollout project beginning in November 2018. In Colombia, some 11 million households will boast advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) systems by 2030 under plans announced by the Ministry of Mines and Energy. And in Chile, Energy Minister Andrés Rebolledo said on Twitter, “By 2025 all the country’s meters will be smart, that is to say, people will be able to know exactly how much energy they consume and when.”

The emergence of these new markets helps beyond the simple contribution of new growth and extends to the establishment of new use cases. Smart meters are still low on the list of priorities for many of the region’s utilities, some of which are still focusing on electrification as their primary objective. For them, the costs of smart metering are still perceived as prohibitive. As new use cases are generated, regional perceptions will likely shift as benefits around billing, optimization, and theft are increasingly realized.

For more information on smart metering plans in Latin America, in addition to the rest of the globe, watch for Navigant Research’s upcoming Global AMI Tracker 2Q18 report.


From Ownership to Outsourcing: An Evolution of AMI

— April 10, 2018

More than a decade after the earliest models of smart electric meters were deployed, the market for advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) is undergoing a major shift. Utilities have historically preferred to acquire their own physical assets and any software required to manage these assets, store all related data in house, and use their own staff to perform related business processes.

However, numerous utilities do not have capital to finance a full-scale deployment or lack the internal skills or IT infrastructure necessary to support smart meters. With utility revenues flattening around the globe, these financial concerns are only increasing. Some of these utilities—particularly smaller companies—are now looking to service-based delivery models to implement smart metering.

Market Landscape

Utilities are increasingly turning to these flexible deployment models to help them mitigate technology risks and reduce costs. In North America, Wisconsin Public Service and the City of Roseville, California recently contracted with Landis+Gyr and Itron, respectively, to manage various aspects of their AMI deployments. Internationally, energy retailers like Solarplicity (UK) and Trustpower (New Zealand) are demonstrating the demand for as a service solutions in deregulated markets.

Regarding these service-based delivery models, there are a number of potential configurations, including:

  • Data services: The collection, storage, and analysis of data in the cloud.
  • Cloud-based software: The delivery of software as a service or enterprise-hosted software.
  • Fully managed services: The delivery of physical assets and business processes as a fully managed service.

While the assets (meters) themselves will largely remain within the utility domain, there are a number of AMI operations being outsourced to third parties, including:

  • Smart grid communications (Silver Spring Networks, Sensus, and Trilliant)
  • Network headend systems and meter data management software (Itron, Landis+Gyr)
  • Smart meter data services (Opower, DataRaker, Trove, SAP, and C3 IoT)

Growth Enables Growth

Looking forward, the market for service-based delivery models will remain strong. This comes in part from three market growth considerations: new smart meter growth, replacement smart meter growth, and growth from emerging markets:

  • New: Navigant Research expects the smart meter market to remain strong and grow over the next decade, with global penetration expected to climb from approximately 39% at the end of 2018 to 57% by the end of 2027. These new deployments will facilitate higher levels of spending around smart meter communications and management; this leaves considerable upside in the market for service-based delivery models.
  • Replacement: The market for smart meters as a service is not just limited to new deployments. The earliest smart meter deployments will soon enter their first replacement cycle, as seen in Italy and Sweden. After a decade of direct ownership, some utilities are looking to the as a service model as a way to flexibly introduce new technology (e.g., the migration from an owned radio mesh network to public cellular).
  • Emerging Markets: In the US, most major investor-owned utilities and cooperatives have or are in the process of rolling out smart meters. This leaves an untapped market of primarily smaller public utilities, which to date have shown a propensity to adopt service-based delivery models for the ongoing management of those new meters. Emerging markets, including Eastern Europe, Asia Pacific, Latin America, and the Middle East & Africa, will account for the majority of new project growth; utilities in these markets are more likely to lack the requisite human and financial capital to deploy and manage their own smart metering network.

Considering the Future

When considering these market drivers, it should be noted that vendors are also paying attention and adjusting their product strategies to this changing business landscape. Perceptions and demand for these service models have changed at a pace that is truly astounding. While not the norm quite yet, the future of service-based delivery models is bright.


China Cements Its Role as the Undisputed AMI Leader

— November 30, 2017

In terms of volume, China continues to preserve its status as the undisputed global leader in advanced metering infrastructure (AMI). Since 2012, State Grid Corporation of China (SGCC) has been deploying smart meters to each of its customers at a feverish clip. SGCC has installed more than 400 million smart meters across China over the past 5 years as part of this unprecedented project.

While utilities in countries like Italy and Sweden have succeeded in converting all their electromechanical meters to smart devices, the scale and execution of China’s nationwide project are truly unmatched. It is worth noting some of the unique characteristics of SGCC’s project and what’s in store for the future of the overall Chinese smart meter market.

How Is This Possible?

When looking at the Chinese market for smart meters, it becomes clear that all meters are not created equal. More often than not, smart meters deployed across China lack the full capabilities of a basic smart meter common in Europe or North America, such as hourly interval measurements or reasonably symmetric two-way communications. Yet, the Chinese meters still provide significant capabilities beyond traditional automated meter reading systems, including very low speed or potential short-range communications.

These limited capabilities are one of the primary drivers behind the radically different price points of Chinese smart meters, which are typically around 50% less than typical US or European prices. In addition, the monopolistic nature of Chinese utilities leads to high volume purchase orders from domestic suppliers, further reducing average meter costs.

What Is Happening on the Ground?

Over the course of 2016, SGCC deployed 70 million new smart meters, with the installed base reaching approximately 400 million devices. SGCC expects full deployment by the end of 2017.

China Southern Power Grid, the country’s other state-owned electric utility, was primarily involved in pilot-scale projects prior to March 2016, at which point the utility began its large-scale commercial deployment. China Southern expects full deployment by 2020, which should account for more than 80 million meters.

Improving Technology Shows Promise for the Market

While initial indications would suggest a significant market downturn in 2017 and 2020 given the rollout conclusions, the emerging second-generation smart meter market should help placate any potential concerns. According to China’s national regulations, meters must be replaced every 5 to 8 years. With the lifespan of SGCC’s deployed meters running between 1 and 5 years, the mega-utility will now begin looking into second-generation upgrade meters, which often carry a higher cost along with increased capabilities.

This emerging second-generation market is expected to help sustain the strong revenue and growth profiles that have characterized the Chinese market for years. As other major markets like Brazil, Egypt, India, and Turkey begin their forays into large-scale smart meter projects, lessons can be learned from the impressive scale and execution of China’s rollouts.


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