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  • Rian Sullings

Smart Metering in China 智能水表 在中国

Earlier this year I was offered the opportunity to speak at Metering China 2017 which took place on June 20-23rd in Wuxi City, Jiangsu (1.5 hours from Shanghai). Metering China is one of the leading conferences in China for those involved in the smart metering and smart water metering. This was a unique opportunity for me to gain a deeper understanding of the smart metering industry and network with people from other parts of the world. I also appreciated the chance to learn first-hand about China as it is a personal interest of mine (my very limited Chinese speaking was useful but I will definitely continue to improve it).

The conference took place in the Wuxi Kingtown Hotel, a high-end accommodation and conference facility. The halls were large and modern and the rooms had views of the beautiful Lihu Lake with traditional style temples visible on the mountain tops in the distance through the mist.

Wuxi Kingtown Hotel

The attendees of the event were a well balanced mix of suppliers, telecom operators, utility representatives, and international experts. Organisations widely known in the Australian smart water metering industry who attended include Huawei, Ericsson, Fujitsu, Semtech, Joymeter, Wasion, ZTE, Saft, Landis+Gyr, Huizhong, WaterGroup, and more.

It was interesting to gain a deeper understanding of the issues faced in the Chinese industry and their achievements in solving these. Many of these issues are also faced by utilities in Australia and the West, and the Chinese utilities and suppliers showed world class thought leadership and incredible attitudes towards improvement and the growth of smart water metering. The approaches to problem solving showed wisdom and holistic planning, rather than the rushed, low budget band-aid fixes often employed by utilities around the world.

Peak Discussion with Chinese Metering Industry and Utility Experts

The battle for LPWAN supremacy is big in China, just like the rest of the world. Huawei, Ericsson, Semtech, and others are all promoting their respective technologies of NB-IoT, LoRa, and LoRaWAN. One representative from a major utility made a great comment on this, which I heard via the translator so it may have lost some impact in English but was still extremely important: “the different wireless networks reminds me of the old saying; we are all weary travelers. It doesn’t matter what food we have, as long as there is something to eat!” This is much like my belief that it is not the most important decision to choose one particular technology over the others. The most important thing is to choose any technology that meets your needs and start applying it now! There is no need to delay smart water metering projects due to uncertainty of which wireless technology will be ‘the winner’. The fact is that multiple technologies will be viable and successful into the future and there are solutions on the market right now that solve the problems we face and will start delivering results and return on investment today.

There are of course many cultural differences, and discussing these is best left to the travel bloggers and social studies experts. I will however point out one key difference which we in Australia can learn from. When the Chinese suppliers and utilities spoke, it came across as genuine information and international experience sharing. At conferences in Australia, speakers are often focused solely on their sales pitch and do not give enough time to provide value right then and there through the sharing of useful information. The Chinese speakers often praised their competitors and shared key their experiences in working around the world. Some of the lessons that the speakers had learned may not have been shared so openly to an audience with 'competing' organisations in the West.

During the lunch on the first day, the attendees who I shared a table with were mostly from the export teams of various suppliers. They spoke about a problem faced by Chinese organisations where their export markets expect their products to be the lowest prices but at the same time commodity prices are increasing and the cost and quality of labor in China is increasing rapidly. With this in mind, I see that the challenge for Chinese organisations is changing their perception in international markets from low cost suppliers, to world leading technology providers with global experience in the most challenging markets.

In the West, there is often a stigma or stereotype that Chinese products are made cheaply, are low quality, and not made to the same standard as products in the West. The belief is that if you want a cheaper product, go to China. I strongly believe that this idea is outdated and of little use in 2017. The Chinese organisations who I met with are not interested in being the supplier of the cheapest, lowest quality product. Rather, they are interested in creating world leading products with the latest technologies and the highest standards. After seeing the products on offer at Metering China 2017, it is clear that suppliers are able to deliver products to the same (or in some cases, higher) standards as Western suppliers. The advantages of scale and volumes do not just equate to lower price per unit. The advantage of scale also allows manufacturers to bring new technology and higher quality to the market when it would otherwise not be viable in smaller quantities.

Metering China 2017 Exhibition Hall

The Chinese government and more importantly, the Chinese people have done an incredible job of rapidly developing Made in China products and solutions for the world over the past 50 years, and with electronics, more so than anywhere else in the past 10-20 years.

In many ways, seeing the Chinese domestic markets is like looking into the future of international markets such as Australia. For example, one of the most popular large sedans in China is the Buick Lacrosse. What struck me about this car is that it is the same vehicle that will be sold in Australia as the upcoming 2018 Holden Commodore. Smart Metering is no different. Many of the technologies that we are seeking in Australia such as cost effective ultrasonic residential meters, LoRaWAN, and NB-IoT communications well and truly in use in China with a wide variety of products available. It will be a very short period of time before these products and suppliers are working more closely with us in Australia and the rest of the world to develop smart water metering and improve the efficiency of our water supply systems.

I thank GSL Consulting for successfully running Metering China 2017 and inviting me to speak. I also thank the people who I met during the event who impressed me with their dedication and expertise in the smart water metering industry.

For the closing remarks from the conference, click here.

We are committed to the rapid development and improvement of smart water metering and water efficiency within Australia and internationally.

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