Ready for future communications?

6 Jul 2023


Ready for future communications?

Is your water network ready for future communications? 

From network monitoring and leakage detection to smart meters, mobile networks play an integral role in data connectivity and collection within the UK water industry. 

Through the use of Internet of Things (IoT) devices and machine-to-machine (M2M) communication, these networks enable the collection and transmission of data from various measuring instruments and transducers within the water network, enabling the ability to provide real-time monitoring, control and management capabilities. All vital for optimised network operation and achieving confidence in water

As an industry, we need to ensure we are ready to welcome the next generation of communications, or risk being left behind. With the ever-changing landscape across various network providers, we hope to provide guidance and insight through the following summary to prepare customers as they enter the strategic planning and investment processes for the coming years, with particular emphasis on OFWAT’s price review planning. 

We hope you find this a useful read as many Internet of Things (IoT) device fleets have either reached or are approaching their end-of-life window.    

Are you ready for 4G LTE-M? 

UK mobile network providers currently use four different ‘generations’ of mobile technology: 2G, 3G, 4G and 5G (though 5G is not yet used for water industry sensors) [ref. 1]. 

However, this situation is currently changing, with the sunset of 3G networks in the UK so that their frequencies can be re-used to provide 4G and 5G services: 

● Vodafone started its switch off in 2023 [ref. 2] 

● EE plans to start its switch off in early 2024 [ref. 3] 

● Three expects to switch off by the end of 2024 [ref. 4] 

● O2 has not yet announced any switch off plans 

Support for 2G is being retained for now, though the UK mobile network providers have indicated that they do not plan to offer 2G services beyond 2033 [ref. 5]. 

Why choose 4G LTE-M and what is it?

The 4G mobile networks primarily serve the needs of today’s mobile phone users and the data-hungry applications they use. But their needs differ from those of IoT devices such as the sensors used by the water industry, which require only modest data bandwidth but ultra-low power consumption to provide five-year battery life. 

Hence two variants of 4G exist to specifically cater to IoT devices: 

● 4G Category M1 or “LTE-M” 

● 4G Category NB1 or “NB-IoT” 

In the UK these two technologies are competing; O2 are deploying support for LTE-M [ref. 6], whilst Vodafone are deploying support for Narrowband Internet of Things (NB-IoT) [ref. 7]. EE and Three have not yet deployed or committed their support of either. 

What is LTE Cat-M1? 

LTE Cat-M1 is a Low-Power, Wide-Area Network (LP-WAN) designed specifically for purpose-built devices, like trackers or water meters, that transmit medium amounts of data over wide ranges. LTE Cat-M1 is a category of 4G long-term evolution (LTE) technology for machines (M). LTE-M is an abbreviated name for LTE Cat-M1. 

What is 4G Category NB1 or “NB-IoT”? 

This is also known as Narrowband Internet of Things and is a Low-Power Wide-Area Network (LP-WAN) technology that has been developed to enable a wide range of devices to be connected to the internet using existing mobile networks. It is a low power, narrowband technology that can support small amounts of 2-way data transmission. 

At Inflowmatix Ltd (a SUEZ owned company), the strategic decision to use 4G LTE-M rather than NB-IoT for our InflowSense™ high frequency (128 samples per second) pressure monitoring devices has been made due to its superior suitability for high-frequency measurements, as shown below. 

Exhibit 1 – Suitability Overview

Suitable for high-frequency pressure measurement (128 Hz)YesNo
Suitable for low-frequency pressure measurement  (15 minute)YesYes
Excellent efficiency and power consumptionYesYes
Data rate [ref. 8]                                           Up to 1 Mbit/sUp to 66 kbits/s
Daily data allowance                                         MegabytesKilobytes
UK network provider                                          O2 [ref. 6]Vodafone [ref. 7]

Exhibit 2 – Current UK 4G LTE-M Coverage

Our InflowSense™ devices will continue to support 2G as a fallback for locations where LTE-M is not yet available. 

With access to this real-time data, we aim to support our customers by reducing leakage and supply interruptions for their end customers and bring them closer to the industry ambition of a 50% reduction by 2050.

Why water companies should act now  

As customers consider their future IoT fleet requirements to optimise investment as part of their digital journey, clear consideration should be made to align with future mobile network changes. 

The impacts of not doing so (i.e. relying on 2G fallback as 3G is retired with no future 4G capability) will lead to higher operational expenditure through poor mobile network connectivity and loss of coverage in certain areas in addition to a higher rate of battery usage.


1. OFCOM, Switching off the UK’s 3G mobile networks: what you need to know:

2. Vodafone, 3G switch-off:

3. EE, We’re Switching Off Our 3G Network:

4. Three, Our plans to switch off 3G:

5. Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport, A joint statement on the sunsetting of 2G and 3G networks and public ambition for Open RAN rollout as part of the Telecoms Supply Chain Diversification Strategy:

6. O2, LTE-M Coverage:


7. Vodafone, Vodafone expands IoT coverage to 98% as customer demands continue to grow:

8. Wikipedia, Narrowband IoT

“Our Data isn’t good enough to use for analysis, garbage in, garbage out”. Or more eloquently put: 

“’Pray, Mr Babbage, if you put into the machine wrong figures, will the right answers come out?’ I am not able rightly to apprehend the kind of confusion of ideas that could provoke such a question.”

Charles Babbage (invented the principle of the analytical engine).

Of course, we wouldn’t argue with Mr Babbage. However, phrases like this applied incorrectly can lead water network operators to misconceptions about what level of data is required to provide benefits from analytics and network modelling. I’ll let Mr Babbage clarify himself…

“Errors using inadequate data are much less than those using no data at all.”

Also, Charles Babbage.

Better Water Network and Asset Performance

In reality, asset and water network modelling, management and control should be measured not only by the performance in relation to the optimum performance but also compared with the performance you would have had without using any data at all. Even working without ‘great’ data, modelling, management and control performance with ‘some’ data will most likely be better than not doing it at all. Start with better, work your way towards great. 

If your water network data really is that inadequate that it can only lead to worse performance, then have a strategy for using your data that includes improving it. Make plans that have a number of milestones along the way. The point at which your data will become useful may be much earlier in your plan than you think!

Service Solutions for Water Network Modelling and Control

If you already have a strategy but it isn’t working, then do something different. Have you considered Data as a Service (DaaS) and Software as a Service (SaaS) approaches? Consider what outcome you are trying to achieve and pay for that outcome, without having to do half of the job yourself. 

At SUEZ, we are able to provide tailored solutions to the water industry for; network data collections and collation, presentation and analytics, hydraulic model creation and model maintenance, and optimisation of network planning and control. We can use the data and models that you have (even if it’s not perfect) and help you to make significant progress, using the most advanced analytical engines available. We can also help you to improve the data you have, by providing DaaS; while also providing the key insights that actually help you make better decisions. And we can help you to use all of those insights by automating water network modelling and control. 

Don’t let your data hold you back, use it to progress! 

The water industry has talked a great deal about moving away from the ‘sawtooth’ model to leakage that is driven by a reactive approach to Active Leakage Control (ALC), with the help of permanent monitoring. But why is this limited to acoustic monitoring? The industry must also shift away from the sawtooth approach to network hydraulic models, which are used to measure, understand and manage network and asset performance. 

How often does your utility update hydraulic network models? 

The general number is every 5 years. How useful is that static model that doesn’t adapt as your network changes? In reality, model calibration often happens far less frequently. Outdated models, whilst better than nothing, are not as useful as they could be. They tell us what ‘used to’ happen in the water network, not what ‘is’ happening in the network.

So, how soon does a static model become outdated and need some TLC? 

The answer is… whenever something changes. Valves are operated more than you are aware and probably more than you’d like! They are also often not put back the way you modelled them. Pressure control assets are sometimes changed without updating the model and control assets can start to behave unexpectedly when they require maintenance. 

Over a 5 year period, these and many other variables change; new developments, large users coming and going, commissioning or decommissioning control assets, pipe replacement (if you’re not in the UK), fixing long-running leaks and more. These all affect the accuracy of your network model and your ability to make accurate and timely tactical and strategic decisions

As a modeller, being asked questions that require checking and updating the model can be a time consuming and manual task to figure out what’s changed and to make the updates needed. 

Wouldn’t using models to make active decisions, plan and make changes to networks be more efficient and effective if the models were calibrated and maintained for when you need them? Let us know your thoughts.

What can be used to look after your model?

With this in mind, Inflowmatix have developed a data agnostic network modelling ‘service’ that automates and maintains the calibration of network models in near real-time, reducing cost and time, whilst making outcomes a deterministic process, moving away from the trial-and-error approach to calibration. The service maintains the accuracy of network models using live data and lets you know as changes arise over time, so what’s actually going on in your network based on the data. The ‘sawtooth’ effect becomes a smooth line, with consistently useful network models.  

Furthermore, arboricity™ provides a richer insight into your network operation through data-driven algorithms and mathematical solvers to identify anomalous network behaviour such as leaks, bursts, throttled or closed valves in order to highlight changes or problems for faster resolution by network operations and field teams. When you’re confident of how your network is operating from the near real-time data, arboricity™ can update the model using the latest pressure, flow and elevation data points from sensors in the network. 

With arboricity™, you can look after your model and your model will look after you!