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Comment: Water, with a splash of disruption

Is there an alternative to 'rip and replace' when it comes to ageing analogue telemetry equipment? Craig Wellman looks at a potentially disruptive innovation

by Craig Wellman, Enterprise Director at Virgin Media Business

Clean H2O flowing from our taps is one of many wonders of life we just take for granted. But when the tech that helps make it happen goes end-of-life, the smart money’s on some disruption.

Water pumping stations. Hardly traditionally high-tech. Or, let’s be honest, a poster child for glamour in a world built on digital. But we’re all going to notice if they don’t function as well as they ought.

So, even the most achingly cutting-edge of us would agree, it’s essential that water pressure’s maintained. We all like a decent shower. And a glass of water. But for that, you need to monitor things. Which, for decades, has been the preserve of analogue circuits provided by BT.

But tech moves on. And the old analogue kit is being decommissioned. The rub for your water bill? Utility companies now face having to replace inexpensive black boxes, that send telemetry data over serial interfaces, with expensive digital wizardry. The cost of the overhaul is projected to run into millions.

A rugged answer to an expensive problem

But what if there was a better, more cost-effective solution? One that would sync with the tech already in role, rather than the knee-jerk of rip and replace?

As we work with seven of the largest water companies (providing connectivity via IPVPN) we got that sudden tingly feeling that told us a little lateral thought and some decisive action would create a disruptive solution, primarily to avoid heavier bills we might all have to pick up off the mat.

We are now working with a company called The Kenton Group, which has produced a router that sits on the end of our data connectivity. This means water companies don’t have to spend millions of pounds to make their monitoring tech IP capable. So with the ruggedised router you can use the old analogue tech with the existing IP data network. There’s no need to rip out equipment.

Open the floodgates for more

Proof of concept tests are currently underway with a leading water firm. Mobile data backup will be provided as standard, so in the event of a fault an overview of their telemetry network performance will be maintained.

And there are many other uses for the product. It’s designed to withstand physical contaminants, temperature fluctuations and humidity - as well as water. It’ll be widely available by the end of the year – and opens the floodgates for the disruption by other utilities as well. How? Well, although we’re working with a water company, the technology can be used for other utilities including electricity and gas.

So it won’t be long before our competitors feel the drip, drip, drip of this disruptive innovation.

This article first appeared on the Virgin Media Business #disruptr blog.

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