Ignion, a company that designs, manufactures and commercializes miniature, off-the-shelf antennas for IoT, mobile connectivity, and short-range wireless devices, has used its innovative Virtual Antenna technology, to deliver robust connectivity for smart metering applications. The two antenna designs, TRIO mXTEND and RUN mXTEND (NN02-224), are Ignion’s top performing antennas that are ideal for smart metering applications. These antennas are designed to deliver high RF efficiency, flexible adaptation to different tracking forms, and faster development times, ensuring best performance for the smart metering device.
The main challenges faced by smart meter manufacturers, when designing a new metering device, is price, size, global coverage, long range and considering surrounding environments that could affect the overall performance. Any wireless smart metering device’s data transmission has to be very reliable and therefore, the antenna is a critical component here.
First, chip antenna technology is perfect for providing cost savings in smart meter production. It is often a lower-cost alternative compared to an external antenna or FPC, and, can be added to the Smart Meter with a pick and place machine saving on assembly costs.
The internally mounted chip antenna provides the benefit of increased protection against environmental factors and vandalism compared to an external antenna. Our patented technology, Virtual antenna® allows for the same antenna part to cover multiple frequency bands simultaneously and offers any device designer the flexibility of selecting and tuning the frequency bands simply through adjustment of the matching network. Virtual Antenna offers a predictable and optimized performance ensuring metering devices easily comply with cellular certifications.
Second, Virtual Antenna® components use the PCB to resonate, which enables high performance in space-constrained device designs. Even with a small-size Virtual Antenna® component, the metering device will perform with optimal efficiency and high gain in all the bands, helping with long-range communications.
Smart meters are subject to long product development cycles and massive deployment and installation. Altogether, this can span several years. And it might happen that in the midst of the deployment, a new connectivity standard arises that improves the business model of the utility provider: e.g., using 5G instead of 4G or older 3G, 2G. A fast upgrade of the smart meter design becomes then very convenient and Virtual Antenna ® ensures that the same component used for 3G will be capable of upgrading to 4G, 5G or any “G” with just a minimum change of the matching network. The same antenna can even be used with non-cellular LPWAN standards such as LoRa and Sigfox.
Components of a Smart Metering Device
Block Diagram of a Smart Metering System
Microcontroller unit (MCU)
An MCU or MPU is an intelligent semiconductor and the main component in any device. It is what allows for the entire system to function, by translating the data programmed in it to commands that all the other components will understand and execute to deliver results. It is the brains of the module. Choosing the best-performing antenna will allow for faster data transmission, which will lead the MPU to perform at its full capacity.
Another especially important unit in a Smart Meter is the metrology system, as the devices need to constantly measure the gas flow rate within an installation in a fully accurate way in order to be able to collect data, to be sent afterward. In the next bullet point you can read how important the antenna is for the data collected by the metrology system to be correctly sent.
Antenna (Wireless Communications)
For optimal communication efficiency, the antenna’s placement is crucial and therefore, its implementation within the device’s design has to be in an early stage. That early implementation has to be done also because, usually, an antenna needs a clearance area in the PCB.
At this point, Virtual Antenna® technology becomes the best solution for any metering device. It gives the customer the ability to design the antenna set-up, in-house, with no expertise required. Furthermore, the customer will also be able to fine tune the performance given its overall product’s structure from the beginning.
There are no more complications with environmental factors; with either with the RUN mXTEND or the TRIO mXTEND antennas. The antenna can be added to the PCB just like another chip or component, so it avoids the traditional external antenna problem regarding protection issues. In addition, these surface mount antennas can be assembled in production using conventional pick-and-place machinery, saving production costs and increasing quality and reliability to the final device.
Click here to read an article from ignion - Step-by-Step Guide to Integrate and Optimize the Antenna in Smart Meters.
Click here to view the SMT antennas from ignion.