M2M communications
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In Europe, Belgian software company Xemex announced last week that it is providing M2M communications software for smart electricity and gas meters to four out of five grid operators in the Netherlands.

The energy distributors are expected to start a widescale roll-out of the meters from 2016 and will connect the devices to the mobile network through the open standard metering gateway, reports Telecom Paper.

Xemex, which is active in Belgium, Ireland, the UK, Austria, Sweden, the UAE and Australia, said in the report that it is adapting the M2M communications modules to meet local legal requirements.

M2M communications - market potential

M2M communications
The need to connect smart meters to utilities presents telecommunication companies with opportunities to regain market share lost to mobile operators and voice over internet protocol technology

Meanwhile, M2M communications deployed by smart metering deployments could be a solution for communications service providers (CSPs) to increase their market share, writes Flavio Gomes, CEO of LogiSense, in a blog posting for M2M Now.

As smart metering gains traction in regions such as the United States, Western Europe and China, CSPs are well placed to partner with utilities as they own the relationship with the customer, said Mr Gomes.

The opportunity to take on the back-end support for smart metering and become the single-source vendor for residential services, allows CSPs to "move past being a dumb pipe into a customer’s home", he said.

Gomes cites the example of NTT DoCoMo, Japan's dominant mobile phone operator, which latched onto an opportunity to move beyond offering telecom services to become the financial platform of choice for bill payment and outsourcing.

The same can be done for utilities, says Gomes, with CSPs offering billing as a service capabilities.

Preparing for smart meter rollouts

However, the opinion piece highlights the need for CSPs to transform their own billing systems and processes to ensure they are effectively engaging with customers at every stage - which is what smart metering will demand.

Gomes suggests M2M communications companies should provide a omnichannel experience to interact with customers across any device.

Another key point is to understand how the convergence of mobile, the cloud and the Internet of Things makes the integration between apps, customer relationship management, enterprise resource planning, billing and rating a huge challenge, especially since different capabilities reside in different systems.

Gomes said: "Providers need to look at their business process management in an end-to-end manner and consider consolidating under a single master system of record.

"This ensures that the information is captured in the most consistent manner and made available to the right people at the right time across any channel to support improved productivity and increased customer satisfaction at the lowest possible total cost of ownership."

Other preparations for CSPs to become utility partners for smart meter rollouts, include providing a secure framework to protect sensitive customer data, utilising a system capable of scaling to support millions of connected devices, and understanding what analytics will be important to the market.