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Concern regarding the potential vulnerability of Utility and critical infrastructure to cyber-attack and remote unauthorised access plays a significant role in smart technology adoption. When a field device can be contacted remotely, this opens the possibility that this same capability can be used for unauthorised access, and remote hacking becomes a real risk requiring careful consideration.

When investigating the use of one-way versus two-way radio technologies for monitoring water assets, in particular smart water meters, identifying system requirements and weighing up the risks can provide some insight into which network is best suited for the application.

Taggle Systems’ Byron Network is a one-way Low Power Wide Area Network (LPWAN). End-points/devices are simple by design, with the capability to only transmit data to a receiver/base-station. They cannot receive commands or information back from the receivers. When these devices are built, they are configured to transmit encrypted data at particular intervals, hourly in most cases, and the receivers pick up these transmissions and forward them to the Cloud via cellular or satellite networks.

For the purpose of collecting regular data from smart water meters over long periods of time, one-way communications is very well suited. There are three instances that often come up when considering if two-way communication is required: remote shut off or control of a valve, on-demand read and over the air firmware upgrade.

Having access to these additional features comes with vulnerability. If a device can be contacted remotely and shut off or upgraded, can every device on the network be compromised during a cyber-attack with remote unauthorised access? While two-way technologies can implement strong encryption and access control techniques, this provides a significant management and technical overhead.

In the case of smart water meters deployed on every water connection, perhaps simple is best. One-way communication also has the added benefit of a longer battery life in the devices. The extra functions seen in two-way communication systems require more energy to perform, which in long term projects plays a significant role in creating the business case.

There are, of course, applications where two-way radio is better suited, and the benefits of the different technologies need to be evaluated. Taggle is currently working on new products where two-way radio is incorporated to address these applications.

With regard to large scale smart water metering, Taggle will continue to support a dedicated one-way platform, taking advantage of its reliability, range and scale. At the same time, the company will offer two-way communications platforms for higher order applications for which they are better suited.

Published first in Utility Magazine